Lake and Sumter Style Magazine
1:46 am EST
Friday, February 26, 2021

Technically speaking

Lake and Sumter Counties are on the cusp of some exciting changes in technology.


3D knees

Bill Eggert of The Villages was apprehensive after learning he needed a total knee replacement. After all, he endured surgery on his left knee 11 years ago. It was a slow and painful recovery.

But this time would be different.

His surgeon, Dr. John T. Williams, Jr. of Advanced Orthopedic Institute in The Villages, used 3D printing technology to produce a custom implant.

The results were astounding.

One day after surgery, he successfully walked around the hospital using only a walker. Six weeks later, he was able to play 18 rounds of golf. And it did not take long to regain full extension and full bending of his right knee.

“I don’t think you should settle for yesterday’s technology when tomorrow’s technology is here today,” says Bill, a resident of The Villages who had the surgery in March. “This procedure is light years better than what I experienced in the past. There was far less discomfort and pain, and the recovery period was much faster.”

Dr. Williams, who opened his practice five months ago, is one of very few doctors in Florida to perform this cutting-edge procedure. Before surgery, a scan is taken to determine the dimensions of a patient’s knee. Then, the Massachusetts-based company Conformis uses 3D printing technology to produce the implant, which matches the patient’s anatomy. Thus, the customized implant fits better, resulting in less pain, a shorter recovery time, and a quicker return to normal activities. It also means less soft tissue and bone dissection during surgery.

As of this writing, he has performed 100 surgeries using this technology.

“The first patient I performed this procedure on won a pickleball tournament six months later,” Dr. Williams says. “I think within 10 years most orthopedic practices will utilize this wonderful technology. Because the implant is a tailor-made fit, there is going to b

e a higher percent of great outcomes.”

Bill is certainly pleased about his great outcome. Today, he takes frequent walks around his neighborhood and works out at Mulberry Grove Recreation Center. That increased mobility has paid big dividends. He has lost 32 pounds since the surgery.

“I have a friend who has done equally well with this surgery, so I’m not an isolated case. The fact that Dr. Williams uses a custom-made implant makes all the difference in the world, and I think it will revolutionize knee surgery. I wouldn’t buy a set of golf clubs without having a swing analysis, so it only makes sense that I wouldn’t want a new knee that wasn’t specifically designed for me.”

A change of pace

Patients who want the latest cutting-edge device designed to keep their ticker ticking can drive to Leesburg.

Leesburg Regional Medical Center became the first hospital in Central Florida to utilize the Micra Transcatheter Pacing System (TPS), which is touted as the world’s smallest pacemaker because it is 93 percent smaller than traditional ones. The device was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in April 2016 and was recently approved by Medicare.

This new pacemaker offers a 12-year battery life and does not require cardiac wires (or leads) that traditionally are attached to the heart and over time tend to wear out or fail to work properly. And instead of doctors making a chest incision, it is inserted through a catheter in the groin and placed in the heart’s right ventricle, making the procedure far less invasive with reduced risk of infection.

Dr. Hector Garcia of Florida Cardiovascular Specialists in Leesburg performed the area’s first procedure April 7. He said the average implant time is between 14 and 16 minutes.

“So far, my patients have experienced fantastic results. In fact, one patient went to work one day after the procedure,” he says. “Before, patients had limited use of the arm on the same side as the pacemaker for six weeks. Now, they have no limitations.”

Now that’s hip

In September 2016, Florida Hospital Waterman became the county’s first hospital to utilize the Mako robotic-arm assisted total hip replacement. This procedure helps eliminate hip pain caused by arthritis.

How does robotic surgery work? Patients lie on an operating table, while a surgeon sits several feet away at a console. The surgeon operates the robot’s controls while looking into a monitor that provides a 3-D view of the surgical site. This allows doctors to navigate hard-to-reach areas of the hip and place the implant with superior precision.

“The Mako system may result in less blood loss, greater sparing of the bone, and higher function post-surgery to manual total hip replacement,” says Dr. Jon Radnothy, an orthopedic surgeon at Florida Hospital Waterman and co-owner of Radnothy-Perry Orthopaedic Center in Tavares.

The hospital began offering the Mako partial knee replacement procedure in 2012. Robotic surgery is also used at South Lake Hospital for general surgery, gynecologic surgery, and urologic surgery.


Think outside the classroom

When schools open in Lake County next month, some students won’t be riding a bus. They’ll spend several hours looking at computer screens instead of chalkboards. And science projects such as dissecting a frog can be completed with a simple swipe of a mouse.

Welcome to the world of Lake County Virtual School, a place where students learn from homes and traditional classroom settings are replaced by phone calls, emails, and a computer screen.

In Lake County, online education has exploded in popularity. The Eustis-based school, which opened in 2008, is home to 90 full-time students in grades 6-12 and 12 full-time students in kindergarten through fifth grade. In addition, 1,300 part-time students who attend traditional schools or are home-schooled have enrolled in the school’s online classes.

Some of the advantages for students engaged in computer-based learning are it offers a lesson in time management and self-driven learning. It also helps prepare students for the increasingly growing number of online courses offered at colleges and universities throughout the country. The University of Florida, for example, offers eight web-based master’s degree programs.

“The days of teachers lecturing in classrooms are a thing of the past,” says Mike Elchenko, who has been principal of Lake County Virtual School for five years. “Nowadays, people are becoming educated in many different ways, and I feel virtual instruction is the wave of the future.”

Students also can learn and complete coursework at their own pace. That’s extremely beneficial for Benjamin Mack-Jackson, a 15-year-old sophomore at Lake County Virtual School. In his spare time, he operates a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving World War II history and is a member of a traveling swim team called the Southwest Stars.

By getting ahead in his coursework, the straight-A student has ample time to focus on his athletic and philanthropic endeavors.

“The school sets a pace for all students, but I get my schoolwork done at a quicker pace,” says Benjamin, who became a full-time student at Lake County Virtual School in seventh grade. “To me, the greatest thing about virtual learning is the flexibility it offers.”

In virtual schools, class discussions occur on message boards, while video presentations allow students to watch a teacher work through a problem. That means a student can watch the video repeatedly or simply text, email, or call the teacher for additional help.

“Our teachers make monthly calls to parents to discuss the pace [students are] working and their grades,” Mike says. “Communication is key to our success.”

Scoring machines

In 2016, hundreds of fans packed the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa and cheered wildly for their favorite teams. There was a buzz of excitement each time a basketball made its way through a hoop.

But these weren’t your typical basketball players—they were robots meticulously crafted by students enrolled in an after-school robotics club at Fruitland Park Elementary. The day they competed in the Florida State VEX Robotics competition, students used computers to maneuver their basketball-playing robots to put plastic balls into a scoring zone or through a basket. The competition was called “Bank Shot.”

For elementary school students, designing and programming a hybrid of R2D2 and LeBron James is a significant feat.

“During competitions, students have one minute to get as many points as they can,” says Crystal Rizzo, a speech-language pathologist who has been teaching the after-school robotics club for three years. “Designing a robot teaches them how to effectively work together and figure out the best way to make their robot complete the challenge at hand.”

Fruitland Park Elementary has been successful under Crystal’s tutelage. During the past three years, she has sent at least one team to both state and world competitions. That’s quite impressive considering VEX is the world’s largest robotic competition.

Winning is fun, but the real goal is equipping students with lifelong skills to help them succeed in an increasingly technological world. It also fosters work skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, and project management.

“This exposes them to technology of the future and helps them choose a possible career path, whether it’s a programmer or engineer,” Crystal says. “They also have to use critical thinking work as a team to design, build, and troubleshoot the robot, and that requires them to use critical thinking skills.”

This past year, Crystal also served as coach of three Carver Middle School students in a private robotics program called Rizzo Robotics. She says robotics excites and appeals to both genders. Conner Zylowski, an eighth-grade student at Carver Middle, certainly agrees.

“What I like most about robotics is you learn something new every day that you can use to make advances in the future by using science, technology, engineering, and math,” says 13-year-old Conner. “One time, I had a program downloaded on the robot and it stopped working. I had to apply the engineering and design process to find the problem and figure out a solution. These skills will help me in the future because my goal is to become an engineer.”


Taking flight

Annie Ragar has a knack for selling homes. She has been a consistent multimillion-dollar producer for Micki Blackburn Realty in Clermont and has emerged as Lake County’s top-producing real estate agent seven different years.

Now, she is taking her ever-changing arsenal of tricks and technology to new heights—literally.

For Annie, her newest, most unexpected selling tool is the use of drones.

Drones outfitted with a camera fly over homes, capture high-quality pictures and videos, and give prospective buyers a unique aerial perspective of a home and neighborhood. They can also be used inside of a house to create that much-needed money shot to sell a high-end home, which means Annie and other real estate agents present a more detailed portfolio to potential buyers.

“I had one buyer who purchased a home sight unseen just because the buyer was so enamored by the drone tours,” she says. “I do drone videos for almost every listing and put them on my website. It’s a tremendous tool.”

Drones may be the most important new technology for real estate marketing since the internet.

“When I first started 28 years ago, all our listings were in newspapers and magazines,” she says. “It really limited your market. Today, my market is limitless.”

It’s electric

It’s easy to grow tired of gas stations and their fluctuating prices.

Some customers of Vann Gannaway Chevrolet in Eustis are, for the most part, kissing their gas goodbye.

That’s because they’ve purchased a Chevrolet Volt, the first commercially available vehicle to use both an electric motor and gasoline-powered generator. Although it is not a pure electric vehicle, trips to a gas station are minimal, especially for those who use the vehicle primarily to commute to and from work.

“I had one customer who only put gas in her car four times in five years,” says Mike Bradner, a salesman at Vann Gannaway Chevrolet. “With a full charge, you can go 53 miles and then the car converts over to a gas generator, allowing you to go another 367 miles. When you let off the accelerator, the brakes generate electricity back into the battery. Many people recharge the car when they arrive home from work, and it only costs between 75 cents and a dollar to do that.”

The Chevrolet Volt also comes with high-tech features such as navigation, a backup camera, and Apple CarPlay.


The Leesburg Public Library is no longer the best-kept secret in Lake County. In fact, more than 300,000 people visit the library annually.

“We like to say that we’re the busiest public building in Leesburg,” says Lucy Gangone, director of the library.

The reason? This isn’t your grandfather’s library where you merely check out a book and read quietly by yourself. The library has turned a new page by providing relevant services in today’s informational and digital world.

Patrons can visit the 45,000-square-foot facility and download QR-coded books onto their tablet or smartphone, learn how to listen to audiobooks on an MP3 player, or take a class on operating Microsoft Windows 10. They can even use genealogy databases to trace their ancestors and heritage.

And it’s all free.

“Having technology in the library helps us bridge the digital divide,” says Dusty Matthews, the library’s adult services supervisor. “If someone has no computer or internet access, they can come here and use our computer. Or if a school loans an iPad to a student, the student can come here and receive one-on-one instruction on how to operate it.”

Dusty teaches several technology-based classes each week. Adults can learn how to operate Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word or use programs such as Hoopla, which allows library cardholders to download movies, TV shows, music, and audiobooks.

“What I find in my classes is that people are eager to learn,” Dusty says.

Children are just as eager to learn, says Melissa St. Louis-Curry. As the library’s youth services supervisor, she oversees the early learning station that features three touch-screen computers with educational software programs.

“It helps students learn about operating a computer while expanding their knowledge at the same time,” she says. “The software covers everything—from reading and math to geography and anatomy.”

Children can also become part of the library’s Makers Club, a hands-on program incorporating science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts. They complete projects such as science experiments, flying drones, and working with Snap Circuit kits to expand their knowledge of electronics.

“Libraries are always evolving to keep abreast with technological changes and also to be responsive to the needs of our patrons,” Lucy says. They are no longer just a house of books.”