Too Young for a New Hip?
One Woman Learns It's Time to Think Again 
By Carrie Pepper
February 2008
For Fifty Plus Magazine  Link: Publication

The Ferris wheel was right out there in front of me, just a short distance down the beach, like a big lollipop a mother was holding up for her toddler . . . just another step, baby, just a few more steps. 
But those few more steps were agonizing as I plodded along in deep sand, leaning heavily on my husband. My degenerative hip joint sent pain down my leg and through my body to the point of tears. I wanted so badly to ride the Ferris wheel, to be lifted high into the blue, above the ocean, dangling my feet over everyone’s head, like a little girl, but just a few yards short, I stopped. 
Leaning against the metal railing surrounding the amusement park, clammy and in severe pain, I gave up. I couldn’t go another step.

Pain Grew Over Time

Ten years earlier, at age 39, I “pulled something” during a tough tennis match. Surely, it would heal and I’d go on playing, I thought, but as the years passed, the pain continued.
I began to favor one side, and over the course of several years, the pain worsened. I developed a limp.
Eventually, I stopped playing tennis. Long walks, cross-country skiing and blissful, pain-free sleep became things of the past.
Everyone I knew, and even those I didn’t know, asked the question: Are you limping? My chiropractor said, “One day, you may need a hip replacement.”
As it turned out, “one day” came the year I turned 50. Family and friends shared common views, telling me I was “so young” and that I should wait because the replaced joint would wear out in a few years and I’d have to go through the whole procedure again. Or so they thought.
I didn’t think I could bear the pain of waiting. Fortunately, as Dr. Vince Dalton of West End Orthopedic in Richmond says, “We are constantly refining our technique and using improved materials to make hip replacement surgery less invasive with less recovery. The new materials currently in use will last a lifetime for most patients, including our younger, more active patients.”
Even so, I wanted to learn everything I could about hip replacement surgery. What I learned was quite fascinating.

An Inventor Ahead of His Time

John Charnley, an English orthopedic surgeon, invented the low-friction hip replacement in the early 1960s at the Center for Hip Surgery at Wrightington, England. His techniques were so bold and ahead of the times that he was questioned by his colleagues and actually banished to a remote hospital that had been used as a tuberculosis sanitarium. This very hospital became a wellspring of knowledge, and surgeons from all over the world traveled there to learn Charnley’s techniques.
So many thousands of people were relieved of hip pain due to Charnley’s work that the Queen of England knighted him for his immense contributions.
I continued my research. I wanted to know the latest techniques. This is when I discovered Biomet, Inc. and learned about its Minimally Invasive/Rapid Recovery program.
Although I was still averse to any type of surgery, I read list after list with titles like, “How to know it’s time for a hip replacement”:

•You have hip/groin pain that keeps you awake, or awakens you, at night;

•You have hip pain that limits you in going about your daily activities (getting up from a chair, climbing stairs, etc.);

•You have hip pain that limits activities that give you pleasure (walking for exercise, traveling, shopping, etc.);

•You have tried other treatments for a reasonable period of time, and you still have persistent hip pain.

Signs of the Time

I had all the signs. I’d tried all the treatments, including chiropractic adjustments, massage therapy, acupuncture, pain medications and finally sleeping pills. It was time.
Biomet is a leader in joint replacement systems, and provides a wealth of information—information that not only gave me all the answers I needed, but helped me find a stellar surgeon. I corresponded with one of their representatives, Trude Jackson, who gave me a personal recommendation impossible to ignore—one year after having this same surgery, she was training for the Boston Marathon.
I scheduled an appointment with her surgeon and bought a plane ticket to Los Angeles.
Through Biomet’s website (www.biomet.com) I learned everything I would need in order to ask the right kinds of questions at my initial consultation.
I read about the various types of joint replacements (hip, knee, shoulder); I learned about the materials used (ceramic, metal and polyethylene) and metal-on-metal. I read about things like wear reduction and resistance to dislocation. The site even provides a simulation of the surgery I had with the M2a-Magnum system.
During my appointment, I had my trusty notebook—full of questions. How long would the surgery take? What were the risks? How long would I be hospitalized? What about recovery, physical therapy? Would I be “normal” again without any sign of a limp?
I asked questions for nearly two hours, and Dr. Edward McPherson, director of orthopedic surgery at the L.A. Orthopedic Institute in Los Angeles, Calif., answered each and every one. His knowledge, patience and reassurance were tremendous. We scheduled the surgery.

…Time Passes…

It isn’t every day that you’re given the chance to begin anew. When my memory starts to get a little fuzzy and I want to remember exactly how it was, I sit down and re-read the letter I wrote to my surgeon two weeks after my surgery:

Dear Dr. McPherson,

It is now a little over two weeks post-op. I sit here on my back patio this morning, listening to doves and jays, cooing and squawking, watching the sun start to filter through the trees, warming my face and now beginning to bathe my new leg with warmth. I CANNOT BELIEVE MY HIP DOESN’T HURT ANYMORE!!
Each morning since I’ve been home, I have come here to sit, with my coffee, for an hour or so each morning—just listening—working hard to be “compliant”—and thinking. About everything. About nothing. I try to just let all the morning sounds and smells soak in—to notice EVERYTHING.
I think of the fact that it’s only been 19 days since you wielded the “five pound hammer” and made me into a bionic (or Biomet) woman! The sore muscles and purplish-green bruises are a reminder, certainly, but the pain, that awful, deep-in-the-joint excruciating pain I endured for so many years is GONE.
You changed my life. I still have a long way to go with physical therapy and strengthening, but I am so looking forward to having the opportunity to get strong again. To see my legs—both of them—gain muscle tone evenly, to hike, to play tennis. To put on a pair of shorts and stand EVENLY in front of a mirror, straight and upright. And, to walk with purpose, without hearing, “Are you limping? It looks like you have a bad wheel,” or the worst ever—“Are you CRIPPLED?”

I am now 20 months post-op and totally pain-free with my M2a Magnum hip. My 3.5-inch incision is barely visible; my muscles are strong and getting stronger. I’m straight as an arrow, back at the gym with no restrictions and signed up for tennis lessons in the spring. I walk with long, sure strides and nobody asks, “Are you limping?”

Carrie Pepper, a former Richmond resident, now writes from her home in Sacramento, California.

Biomet Surgeons in Richmond Biomet, Inc., designed and manufactured the hip replacement I currently enjoy. It also makes joint replacements of many other sorts. The company conducts training and educational sessions for orthopedic surgeons who use Biomet products.
Its website,
www.biomet.com, lists 17 “Biomet Certified” surgeons in central Virginia, with profiles of each. Six are associated with West End Orthopaedic Clinic (www.weoc.com) , including Dr. Vince Dalton, who spoke with me for this article.

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