Swedish/Issaquah construction contractor is patient No. 1

July 12, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

For inaugural surgery, hospital prepares to rebuild builder

Swedish/Issaquah is projected to handle about 100,000 patient visits next year.

Wes Hagen, senior construction superintendent for Sellen Construction Co. on the Swedish/Issaquah project, is in line to become the hospital’s first surgical patient July 14 for a knee operation. By Greg Farrar

Wes Hagen is scheduled as patient No. 1 in the operating room.

The senior construction superintendent and vice president for Sellen Construction Co. who led construction on high-tech operating rooms is in line to be the inaugural surgical patient at the hospital July 14.

Since construction started in summer 2009, Hagen logged every workday on the hospital campus as the site morphed from a dirt plateau to a steel skeleton to a sleek structure sheathed in glass.

Now, he needs surgery to repair a tear in the meniscus inside his left knee, a quick outpatient procedure.

“Building a hospital — it’s an honor and a privilege for me to be able to do it, and just turn something like this over to the community,” he said. “We build office buildings and everything, but you know, you can’t give a better gift than something like this. It’s outstanding.”

The idea to use Hagen as the inaugural surgical patient formed after his injury occurred in November. Hagen asked to undergo surgery at Swedish/Issaquah on opening day.

“Why not? I built it. I’ve got faith in it. I’ll just see if I can make arrangements to have the surgery done the day they open,” he recalled.

Dr. Mike Purdon, a general practitioner and Issaquah resident, said Hagen mentioned the joint problem at a recent appointment.

“In pretty short order in the office, you could tell that he had a serious problem inside the knee,” Purdon said.

The arthroscopic procedure to repair such a tear requires only about 60 minutes. The actual surgery encompasses about 15 to 20 minutes.

Swedish/Issaquah administrators plan to perform less-complex procedures as the hospital comes online. (Expect inpatient procedures to start in November.)

Injury is ‘like having a rock in your shoe’

Dr. Alexis Falicov, a top orthopedic surgeon, plans to make a series of 2-millimeter incisions to insert a small camera and instruments inside Hagen’s injured knee.

The meniscus acts as a fleshy cushion between the thighbone, or femur, from the shinbone, or tibia.

“What happens is, as we get older, our tissues became less elastic. We just don’t stretch as much,” Falicov said. “So even with a fall or twisting, what happens is, it’s not just as stretchy and it just tears.”

Hagen underwent the procedure years ago to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

“The problem is that the tears don’t heal, but they’re very painful. Think of it sort of like a paper cut,” Falicov said. “So what happens is, if you get a small tear in that material, every time you walk, you’re pulling on that tear and it hurts.”

Purdon said a torn meniscus is “kind of like having a rock in your shoe” — in other words, a painful distraction.

Like Hagen, most patients notice uncomfortable clicking or popping sensations inside the joint.

“Occasionally what will happen is, little bits of that cartilage will flip up and down, and you’ll get sort of this catching and locking, where the knee will sort of lock up,” Falicov said. “It’ll be very uncomfortable.”

The procedure to repair a tear in the meniscus is straightforward, due in large part to the technology surgeons use.

“What we do is, we want to remove that edge and sort of smooth out the tear so it doesn’t catch anymore,” he said.

Hospital is ‘a good fit in the community’

Most patients require physical therapy to recondition the knee after surgery.

“Wes’ case is very typical. There are two groups of people who get this. The first group is the really young, active people. So, that’s like the 19-year-old or the 20-year-old skier that twists their knee and they get this large tear,” Falicov said. “The second group is, as they get older, usually in about their 50s or 60s.”

Countless hours spent on unforgiving construction sites could also explain another factor behind the tear.

“I’m sure his walking over uneven surfaces, and climbing and descending and loading the joint with lifting” contributed to the tear, Purdon said.

In the months ahead, Hagen and the construction crew on site must complete labor-and-delivery rooms and the intensive care unit. The goal is to complete the remaining construction in September.

“I think this is kind of a lovely thing to see a guy with such pride in what he’s done here and then such confidence that he wants to put his money where his mouth is and step up and get this done in his facility,” Purdon added. “It makes me really admire him.”

Hagen resides in South King County between Auburn and Black Diamond, so the Issaquah hospital requires a short jaunt.

“This will be our hospital, and our doctor’s here,” he said. “I’ve always used Swedish in downtown Seattle before, but we transferred our records over to Dr. Purdon now.”

Hagen, a team member on other projects for Swedish Medical Center and hospitals throughout the West, said Swedish/Issaquah stands apart from earlier efforts.

“It doesn’t have a hospital feel to it. You walk into this building and it is not like walking into any hospital environment that I’ve ever been in. It’s friendly, it’s a good fit in the community, it’s not a big ivory tower,” he said. “I believe this is the thing of the future.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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