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Ford undergoes knee surgery

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Former President Gerald Ford underwent surgery Wednesday to replace his left knee, which was injured during his days playing football more than a half-century ago, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Ford, 76, was awake during the 90-minute procedure, which began at 9 a.m. at Eisenhower Medical Center, spokeswoman Sallie Mananssah said.

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Dr. Robert Murphy, an orthopedic surgeon, said the operation to mend damage to Ford's knee suffered in a 1933 football injury was successful.

'It was done under a spinal anesthesia with him wide awake,' Murphy said. 'He spent most of the time talking with the anesthesiologist.'

Murphy said it was Ford's fourth operation on his left knee, which the former All-American center injured while at the University of Michigan.

In the first surgery, doctors removed torn cartilage. As a result of subsequent degeneration of the remaining cartilage, Ford was walking 'bone-against-bone,' Murphy said.

Over the years since Ford's athletic injuries, both his knees developed advanced degenerative arthritis, Murphy said. The former president was scheduled to undergo the same procedure on his right knee in October.

'He's had a lot of pain and instablity in his knees, the feeling his knees would buckle on him,' Murphy said. 'He's had a great deal of difficulty going up and down stairs.'

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Murphy said that Ford's entire left knee was replaced with an artificial joint, including portions of the adjacent femur, or thigh bone, and tibia, or leg bone.

The new joint is made of titanium, with some high density plastic parts adjoining the metal. Murphy described the artificial knee is a 'bone ingrowth prosthesis.'

'The older model used until few years ago used bone cement ... but the new model uses no bone cement. His bone will grow into it,' Murphy said.

Murphy said Ford's active lifestyle, which includes regular swimming and golf, made him a good candidate for the bone ingrowth type of joint because exercise promotes healing.

'We'll get him out of bed tomorrow afternoon. He'll be walking on a walker with just partial weight bearing (on the left leg),' Murphy said. 'He's not going to be able to put full weight on it for about two months.'

After a seven-day hospital stay, Ford will walk on crutches until the bone and titanium joint fuse, which is expected to take two months.

Murphy said Ford will undergo therapy at his Palm Springs home with Eisenhower staff therapists.

Penny Circle, Ford's chief-of-staff, said that Ford is in otherwise good health.

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Since he left office in January 1977, Ford has served on several corporate boards of directors and the Pepperdine University Board of Regents.

A congressman from Michigan for 25 years who rose to become Republican leader of the House of Representatives, Ford is the only person ever to serve as vice president or president without winning either office by general election.

Ford was elected by Congress to the vice presidency in 1973 after Spiro Agnew resigned the post under suspicion of federal income tax evasion. Ford came to the Nixon White House during the most tense times of the Watergate scandal.

He stepped in as the 38th president on Aug. 9, 1974, when Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace.

In his only campaign for the highest office in 1976, he was defeated by Democrat Jimmy Carter and became the first incumbent to lose the office since 1932, when Herbert Hoover was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Ford's wife, Betty, recovered from breast cancer and alcohol and prescription drug abuse. She founded the Betty Ford Center, a rehabilitation clinic for drug and alcohol abuse at the Eisenhower Medical Center.

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