Patient Story: An Emotional Journey for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patient

I cannot say enough kind words about someone who I feel has basically given me my life back.”

Debra Stephens, Patient of Juha Jaakkola, md

Debra Stephens can’t help but get emotional when talking about her foot surgery and especially her surgeon. Since 1996, she’s been suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis throughout her body. In her feet, the pain has been severe. On April 26, 2019, Juha Jaakkola, MD, from Optim Orthopedics performed forefoot reconstruction on her left foot and Debra is thrilled with the results. “I cried when I first saw my foot after surgery,” she said. “It was my old foot again!”

Debra admits she was nervous about her first visit to Dr. Jaakkola. “I was scared, but I knew something had to be done,” she said. “Dr. Jaakkola made me feel very comfortable. He looked at the x-rays and said, ‘I can fix that.’ He then went on to explain everything about the planned foot reconstruction in great detail.”

The procedure was performed at the Optim Surgery Center in Savannah. “Everyone over there  was extremely pleasant and professional,” said Debra. “I just can’t say enough nice things about all the nurses and staff. Each person told me who they were, what they were going to do and what to expect. They were so gracious.”

According to Debra, she felt immediate relief from the surgery even though the first few days of recovery were painful.

She also knows for a fact that going ahead with the surgery and choosing Dr. Jaakkola at Optim Orthopedics was the best decision. “Since then, so many people have told me that they know he’s one of the best around,” said Debra. “And when I would go out with the recovery boot on, people would ask me what happened to my foot. I’m not a very talkative person, but I didn’t at all mind sharing that Dr. Jaakkola was my doctor and recommending him.”

Without a doubt, Debra knows that the procedure changed her life. The pain had gotten progressively worse over the years and kept her from being able to do everyday things like grocery shopping or some household tasks. Debra’s loving husband of 33 years, David, has been by her side every step of the way. “I wouldn’t have been able to go through this without him,” she said. “He’s done an awful lot, helping around the house and going to all of my appointments with me.”

David & Debra Stephens

For now, Debra is focusing on staying positive “My mother had rheumatoid arthritis severely and actually died at the age of 59,” she said. “I turned 59 this past January, so it was an issue that had really been weighing on me. I didn’t choose to have this disease but I can choose how to handle it.”

Debra enjoys spending time with her husband, their three children and three (soon to be four) young grandchildren. Their son, Greg, and his wife, Dana, have a daughter, Evelyn, and are expecting a son in November. Their other son, Brad, and his wife, Cody, are the parents of Dash and Ari. Daughter Emily recently became engaged to Will Cecil.

Debra’s next surgery by Dr. Jaakkola will take place in the next month or two, this time the reconstruction of her right foot. She thinks back to her first appointment with Dr. Jaakkola, when he shared something with her that he had learned in medical school. “He said he was told that when the procedure is successful, your Rheumatoid Arthritis patients will be the most grateful patients. For my part, I cannot say enough kind words about someone who I feel has basically given me my life back.”

The Stephens Family: From left, Emily & Will, Dana & Greg, Debra & David (holding Evelyn & Dash), Brad & Cody
Dash and Evelyn