Roberta “Bobbi” Wingerter was anxious after scheduling her knee replacement surgery. At 83, she had already survived an invasive surgery in her battle with Hodgkin’s disease and was not looking forward to another procedure.

But she also knew that pain was causing her to miss out on the best years of her life. In 2019, Bobbi and her husband, Gene, moved from Bethesda, Maryland, to live permanently at their vacation home at Wrightsville Beach. To Bobbi, their modest villa near the shore is home, a treasure trove of family memories.

“I wasn’t ready to give up my independence,” she said. “But I was also really nervous at the thought of having to have another operation, and that’s when I got a phone call from Christine.”

Christine Costagliola is the total joint program coordinator at Novant Health New Hanover Orthopedic Hospital. “My goal is to reach out to each patient two to three weeks before their procedure to help answer questions and to provide education about what to expect before, during and after their surgery,” she said. “In some cases, if the patient is really worried like Mrs. Wingerter was, I’ve been known to make house calls.”

A different kind of nurse

Christine Costagliola with her dog Bowie
Christine Costagliola practices martial arts

Costagliola, 54, starts each day with a cup of coffee and a piece of buttered toast. Her dog, Bowie, named after the singer, gets the crust.

Occasionally she will clear her head by practicing martial arts; she has a second degree blackbelt. The mother of three also teaches aerobics and BodyCombat classes at a local gym. Her goal: Help people help themselves.

It’s a mindset she learned from her mother, also a nurse. Originally from Cleveland, Costagliola was 23 and on a trip to visit family in Wilmington in 1991 when she saw a billboard trying to recruit nurses to New Hanover Regional Medical Center. On a whim, she applied and was hired the same day. Costagliola would go on to spend 25 years as an ICU nurse and as a supervisor before deciding to take on a new challenge as the orthopedic hospital’s joint replacement navigator in 2019. She thought she’d seen it all, then COVID-19 hit.

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As with all health care systems across the country, New Hanover Orthopedic Hospital experienced staffing shortages. This required Costagliola to not only help implement and follow new safety protocols, but to also work longer hours.

“The pandemic created a whole new set of questions for my patients,” she said. “Despite the new challenges, I always try to pour my heart and soul into each patient. I want them to know that I’m their biggest cheerleader.”

Nothing short of perfect

Unlike general surgery centers, Novant Health offers convenient access to the only dedicated orthopedic hospital on the coast. The team there specializes in orthopedic surgery and is well-equipped to provide additional acute-care services if an emergency occurs.

Costagliola shared that years ago, joint replacement patients historically required a three- to five-day hospital stay after surgery. But thanks to Novant Health’s recent investment in adding robotic-assisted surgical technology and less-invasive surgical techniques, patients can now recover faster and, in many cases, leave the hospital within hours of their procedure.

“Nothing short of perfect makes me happy,” she said. “Our team is laser-focused on producing good outcomes, quicker recoveries and reduced costs for our patients.”

Homemade cookies

That’s why Costagliola made a house call to Bobbi Wingerter last June. She could tell her patient was uneasy about the upcoming operation and that a phone call just wasn’t going to cut it.

Bobbi Wingerter
Bobbi Wingerter was nervous for her surgery, but Costagliola was there to reassure her and answer questions.

So, after work, Costagliola drove her white Ford SUV to her patient’s house, eager to answer questions face to face. She also helped adjust her walker to the right height and put tape down on the living room rug, a fall-prevention tactic.

Bobbi was blown away and tried to return the favor by setting out homemade chocolate chip cookies. Her husband, Gene, also gave Costagliola a sleeve of golf balls when he learned they shared a similar interest.

“My dad was a surgeon,” said Bobbi. “And I spent my career in research at the National Institutes of Health. I’m the type of person that really wants to ask questions and dig into all the details. Chris not only answered my questions, but she approached me with kindness, and gave me all the warm and fuzzies. Something you don’t typically get at your doctor’s office.”

‘I came for the job, but stayed for the people’

While Costagliola doesn’t make house calls for all of her patients, she is committed to meeting them with the care and support they need. In some cases, that means helping to remove barriers to care and connecting them to the right teams within the health care system to help with food, medication or even financial resources.

“It’s about seeing the patient as a whole person, not just as a new knee or a new hip,” she said. “I’m also honest when I tell them that it will hurt for a few weeks and require some hard work in the days ahead.”

Shelly Motz, inpatient nurse manager at the orthopedic hospital, said that Costagliola is the face of the program.

“Christine is essential to what we do every day,” said Motz. “I’ve worked in orthopedics for decades and Christine is the only joint navigator I’ve ever worked with that’s literally willing to jump into surgery if we need her. It’s hard to describe just how much she cares.”

Costagliola also helps oversee and monitor the hospital’s high-risk patients. She reviews their medical history and stays in close communication with the care team to help avoid surgical complications and readmissions. Her favorite part of the job is when patients call back weeks, months or even years later just to let her know how well they’re doing.

“While I came for the job, I stayed for the people,” said Costagliola. “I love this community, and I love the team I get to work with every day.”

As for Bobbi, she’s already started thinking about getting her other knee replaced. But this time, she’s not as nervous, because she knows that she has a friend waiting for her at the hospital.