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‘I wish I would have done it years ago’

Gritman orthopedic surgery helps coach regain her quality of life

Visit our orthopedic care page to learn more about how we can help you get back to living a more pain-free life.

For years University of Idaho volleyball coach Debbie Buchanan felt her only option was to live with the excruciating pain in her right knee.

And that meant all aspects of her life — both professionally and personally — suffered. Walking was painful. Her sleep was impacted. Family hiking adventures and dancing with her husband, impossible.

Debbie shoeAfter years of living with extreme knee pain, Idaho volleyball coach Debbie Buchanan is now on a path to living pain-free.

“You get to the point where you start to plan your life around your limits,” Debbie said. “It just got to where my quality of life was terrible. I should have still been pretty active and doing things.”

Something had to change, and she turned to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Steven Pennington and Gritman Medical Center to help get her back to living a pain-free life and doing the things she loves.

Dr. Pennington, who serves as a team physician and surgeon with University of Idaho Athletics in addition to seeing patients at Inland Orthopaedic Surgery, recommended a partial knee replacement, an alternative to a total knee replacement for some patients whose damage is confined to a particular compartment of the knee.

“Honestly, I wish I would have done it years ago,” Debbie said. “I feel like I can pretty much do anything now.”


Debbie grew up roughly 70 miles northeast of Moscow in St. Maries, where she was a star multi-sport athlete in the small town. By the time she graduated, she had helped the Lumberjacks to five state titles – one in basketball and four in volleyball.

While athletes in rural Idaho often get overlooked, her skills, especially on the volleyball court, were hard to miss. She was recruited by programs like Washington State University, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii, but she ultimately accepted a full-ride scholarship to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Before she could leave for the bright lights of LA, she tore her lateral meniscus in her right knee while playing basketball.

“It was kind of just a freak thing. My foot planted, my shoe stuck and my knee rotated,” she said. “Back then I thought it was a pretty minor injury.”

Following surgery and a quick rehab, Debbie was off to USC. Unfortunately, she re-tore her knee during her freshman year. And just like that, her playing days were over. Debbie was put on medical scholarship and joined the USC coaching staff.


I feel like I am getting my life back. I am really excited with where I am at this point, and it has definitely changed my life.” – Debbie Buchanan
Over the years Debbie has had several surgeries to “clean up” her knee, but the pain always returned. And in a profession that required her to be on her feet for long periods of time, that was not ideal.

“I tried to tolerate the pain, limit my workouts, limit my activity,” Debbie said. “It got to the point this last year where I could literally hardly walk from the gym and back to my office.”

That’s when Dr. Pennington suggested a partial knee replacement, which offers a quicker recovery and often less pain than a total knee replacement. Debbie didn’t hesitate at the chance to live pain-free, and she elected to have the procedure at Gritman Medical Center.

“It is the best surgery I have ever had. I had my full range of motion back within a week. I am active, I have zero pain. I ran a couple of miles the other day and no swelling or pain. I feel like I am getting my life back,” she said. “I am really excited with where I am at this point, and it has definitely changed my life.

“I am going hiking now and it doesn’t hurt at all. I have zero swelling. I am doing things that I haven’t been able to do, just because I knew I was going to pay for it the next day. Even cleaning the house, three hours of up and down the stairs and vacuuming, I could barely move. Now I can go all day and I feel great. For me, it was a game-changer.”

Debbie is grateful to both Dr. Pennington and Gritman for giving her the chance to live her life to the fullest.

“We are pretty fortunate to have the great care we do at Gritman Medical Center.”