By Karen Dandurant
Posted Jan 16, 2020 at 12:02 PM
Updated Jan 17, 2020 at 10:04 AM
EXETER -- Abby White, a physical therapist at Exeter Hospital, believes having her own hip replaced has given her a better understanding of her patients’ needs.
After her surgery at age 34 she completed an Olympic distance Aquabike event. She worked very hard to get back to that level of athletic ability for herself, joined a triathlon group and talks with patients about her experience.
“I do in-patient rehab for patients who are acutely ill or who are post- operative,” said White. “I am often the first person getting them out of bed and walking. I assess what they need to accomplish in order to go home safely. Post-operative for joint replacement, I will set up their exercise regimen, see what equipment they might need.”
White’s hip replacement was in February 2019, due to a congenital joint issue.
“It turns out I was born with hip dysplasia,” said White. “My hip was not ideally shaped. I started having pain in my 20s, in my right hip. The condition led to certain injuries to my connective tissues and it slowly got worse. I saw a specialist in Boston to see if there was a way to save my hip. He does a preservation surgery, periacetabular osteotomy. We did X-rays and right away it was obvious there was no saving it and it had to be replaced.”
White said her pain got so bad, she was limping all the time. “It didn’t seem right to me for a physical therapist to be limping around the hospital,” said White. “I scheduled the surgery.”
White’s surgery was done by Dr. Thomas McGovern, an orthopedic surgeon at Core Orthopedics.
“For a person to need a hip replacement at Abby’s age is uncommon,” said McGovern. “Of the 500,000 hip replacements done each year, most (patients) are older, having osteoarthritis. Some, like Abby, are born with a condition where the cup part of their hip is shallow. Because of this they develop arthritis at an earlier age, but they will still suffer the same debilitating pain, and they will greatly benefit from the surgery.”
White has the highest praise for McGovern.
“I had worked with him prior to my surgery, so I knew he was the best,” said White. “He knows and stays on top of all the latest research and surgery techniques. I went to him with questions. He sat down with me and explained virtually everything. He was so kind and caring.”
McGovern said hip replacement surgery has been around since 1962.
“The techniques and the materials have greatly improved over time,” said McGovern. “We use a combination of titanium steel and ceramics. Patients usually stay overnight in the hospital, but are up and walking within hours of surgery because moving is key to their recovery. It takes about four to six weeks for healing and up to three months for full recovery. The surgery is minimally invasive now, with less impact to
the muscles, tendons and ligaments.” Things are much better now for White.
“I am so grateful,” said White. “I feel better every day. I have no pain and I am getting back into biking and swimming. I don’t run because it is not advisable for a hip replacement patient. It has been a good solid nine months of recovery and I do not feel a twinge of pain.”
White said she looks at her patients in a different way now, sees more of what they are experiencing. She said they bond better.
“It was eye-opening, being on the patient end of things,” said White. “Everyone is different. We do not know the way our body will respond to the surgery. Some people are out of bed right away, no limp and ready to go. Others require more time. Being only 34, I expected to be the first type, but I needed time to recover. I was nauseous and had a decent limp at first.”
White said she can talk about this with patients, and tell them their recovery rate will vary and depends on many factors.
“I don’t tell every patient about my hip replacement,” said White. “But I seem to know the ones who will benefit from our shared experiences. I can offer advice and support coming from a shared background. I can see firsthand how that is a benefit for some of my patients.”
McGovern said that while he has performed thousands of the surgeries, he has not had a hip replacement himself.
“I can see how Abby can have that unique perspective,” he said. “She underwent a very successful procedure.”
White said she is working her way back to the athletics she loves, and she tells her patients to take the time they need to make a good recovery.
“I joined SheCoast Multisport before my surgery,” said White. “All the women there were so encouraging as I went through my journey. I connected with Michael Rix on Facebook. He is a triathlete who also needed to have a hip replacement. He shared his story with me and has been so supportive. I think I can do that in a small way with my own patients.”