Nightly News   |  August 07, 2013

Knee replacement costs vary, but the parts are built to last

The number of total knee replacements is double the combined number of wrist, ankle, shoulder and hip replacements. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>>> we have more tonight on an operation hundreds of thousands of americans undergo each year including the usual occupant of this chair. we are happy to report 24 hours after knee replacement surgery , brian was up and around today. there are rumors he made two laps around the nurses' station, taking the first test drive on his new titanium knee made necessary by a high school football injury 30 years ago. brian, if you're watching tonight -- and i have no doubt you are -- you will appreciate or sympathize with a fellow patient also hoping to return soon to a pain- free life . our chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman has our report.

>> which knee are we going to operate on today?

>> the bad one.

>> the bad one.

>> reporter: it's early morning at new york the's hospital for special surgery . dr. windsor is finishing his safety checks before bringing 54-year-old thomas apple into the o.r.

>> feeling good. nervous. feeling excited.

>> reporter: tom is having toe ta -- total neerpt surgery. doctors put plastic where the shin bone used to be. they cement a me tall covering around the femur creating a smooth surface separating the bones. the numbers for total knee replacements are up in men and women, topping more than 645,000 cases a year. that's double the number of oh wrist, ankle, shoulder and hip re placements, combined. like thomas apple, brian williams also suffered a painful knee injury playing high school sports .

>> did you have to be talked into the operation or were you ready?

>> every surgeon always said to me , you will know. i was hung up on taking out original equipment and putting in replacement parts.

>> reporter: the good news is today's high tech parts are built to last.

>> in the beginning days of total knee replacement we would say ten years and you're lucky, 15 is great. now we are beginning to see 20, 25, 30-year survivorship.

>>> the cost of the total knee replacement varies wildly depending on age, condition and where you live. from $23,000 up to $70,000. some of it covered by insurance, some not.

>> i just want to see him happy.

>> reporter: for tom apple and his wife, linda, there is no price tag on what they hope will be a pain-free future. dr. nancy snyder it is man, nbc news, new york.

>> we have posted a lot more online including information on how to compare prices for the surgery on our website, nbcnightlynews.com.