Custodian back to work just 6 weeks after double-knee replacement

GIBSON CITY — After having both of his knees replaced with artificial joints, Carl Welch could have taken more time to rest. The six weeks of work he missed could have been eight or 10, or even more.

But the 52-year-old Welch was getting tired of all of those television show reruns. Plus, he missed the kids and teachers who have been such a big part of his life over the past 32 years of his employment as a custodian for the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley and former Melvin-Sibley school districts.

“I’d rather be working than sitting at home or whatever,” Welch said. “The joke was I came back so soon to get away from the wife, but she said, ‘You’re going to get in trouble for that one.’”

Welch did not initially expect to be able to make such a quick recovery following his July 30 surgery by Dr. Chris Dangles at Gibson Area Hospital in Gibson City. But he was motivated to progress through his physical therapy quickly and return to work as soon as possible as the daytime custodian at GCMS Middle School.

To the surprise of many, Welch was back to work by Sept. 17.

“It is amazing to me that someone can face a double-knee replacement and be cleared and back to work in less than six weeks,” GCMS Superintendent Jeremy Darnell said. “His work ethic is one that I hope others notice, appreciate and emulate.”

Welch had been battling knee issues for several years. At first, Welch’s rheumatologist believed the cause of the pain was arthritis — but after undergoing treatment for arthritis, the pain did not go away.

“I couldn’t hardly walk,” Welch said. “I’d be working for an hour and I’d break out in a sweat — and not because it was hot, but just because the pain was so bad.”

So one day earlier this year, Darnell and the school district’s building supervisor told Welch that he needed to “do something about it.” Welch scheduled an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon — Dangles — who took X-rays of Welch’s ailing knees and determined that the joints had deteriorated to the point both knees needed replaced.

“He says, ‘There’s nothing there — it’s bone on bone — so you’ll need surgery,” Welch recalled. “So later he had it scheduled and did it.”

Six hours after surgery, Welch was standing on his feet.

“I thought I was going to fall down or that it was going to hurt, but I stood up and after a few seconds to adjust to standing up, I didn’t feel any pain — no sharp pains, nothing,” Welch said.

Welch then began physical therapy to gain some strength in his new knees. He also tried losing some weight.

Nowadays, Welch is barely limited on what he can do physically.

“I just take it a little slower,” Welch said. “I can do whatever, but it may take me a little longer. I can’t get on my knees and stuff (like before) ... and when I climb a ladder or something, I maybe don’t go as high for a while.”

Welch’s job involves cleaning the middle school and its grounds. It’s a job that usually does not get any recognition, but it’s one that needs to be done.

“There’s like 250 kids here, so somebody’s going to make a mess,” Welch said.

As unglamorous as it is, Welch always does his job with a smile on his face.

“I like it. I like the kids, and the adults I can put up with,” Welch said with a laugh. “I always love to joke with the kids, and I give the teachers a hard time. I love to aggravate them.”

There are slow days at work, and there are busy days. Welch takes it all in stride, doing whatever he is asked to do.

“I’ve always done what they’ve asked me to do,” Welch said. “I always say, ‘The pay’s the same,’ so it doesn’t make a difference to me (what I do on a certain day). If I’ve got the parts or a little knowledge to do (a job), I can do it.”

Darnell said Welch’s work ethic and devotion to his job is inspiring to see.

“Carl Welch is summed up by one thing he always said to me when days were hard: ‘The pay is the same,’” Darnell said. “It didn’t matter if he was doing the hardest work or had an easy day; he takes them all in stride, shows up and works hard. He taught me a lot about my approach to my job.

“He’s one of the hardest-working people I know. He shows what determination, grit and perseverance can do.”

Welch began working at the local middle school 32 years ago, when it was part of the since-consolidated Melvin-Sibley school district. Before he was hired as custodian, he had spent summers working in the school district when he was a teenager.

While Welch was laid off from a factory job, the district’s superintendent approached him and asked if he would be interested in filling in as a custodian for a janitor who was having surgery. Welch agreed, eventually staying on permanently after another janitor became ill and quit.

A resident of Sibley for 45 years, Welch celebrated his 10-year wedding anniversary with his wife, Connie, on Aug. 18. In his spare time, he enjoys fishing, gardening and visiting a friend of his in Wisconsin.

Welch has no plans to retire anytime soon.

“I’m too young,” he said.

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