Man in Motion
After Hip Replacement, Coach Gets Back on the Field
For almost a decade, Dan Branch, 47, a strength and conditioning coach for the Pennridge High School football team, dealt with severe osteoarthritis pain that felt like a knife stabbing his right thigh and lower back.
“After a long day, I’d come home and lie on the floor in a fetal position,” he says. “I lived on Tylenol. I tried massage therapy and acupuncture, but nothing helped for more than a day or two.”
For years, he refused to believe that the problem might be his hip, even though both his father and brother had undergone hip replacement surgery. Many of his symptoms didn’t match up to theirs; for instance, he didn’t walk with a limp, and he hadn’t had the grinding sensations that they had experienced. Instead, he attributed the pain to a strained or torn muscle.
Finally, his family doctor set him straight by showing him an X-ray that revealed that the cartilage that had once cushioned his ball-and-socket hip joint had completely worn away, leaving bone on bone.
A Minimally Invasive Approach
Dan steeled himself for major surgery with a long, painful, recovery. But then a colleague at Pennridge mentioned that her husband had recently had a hip replacement at Abington Health’s Orthopaedic & Spine Institute at Lansdale Hospital with Andrew M. Star, MD, and had recovered much faster than expected. A few weeks later, in May 2014, Dan went in for a consultation.
The joint replacement surgeon at the Orthopaedic & Spine Institute (OSI), had seen thousands of joints in various stages of deterioration. Still, Dan’s X-rays made Dr. Star wince. “It hurt to look at them,” he recalls. “The cartilage was completely gone, and the ball portion of the joint was deformed.”
As disabling as his pain had become, Dan was concerned that the surgery might set him back even further. But then he learned that his procedure would be very different from his father’s or brother’s.
Dan would undergo anterior hip replacement, a variation of traditional hip replacement.
In the anterior approach, the hip joint is accessed through a 3.5-inch incision at the front of the thigh, rather than the back of the leg. This allows the joint to be accessed without cutting through major muscles and tendons, which means there’s less pain and less healing that needs to take place. Patients can bend over and lie on their sides immediately; with traditional hip replacement, their movements are much more limited for six to 12 weeks. Most patients even resume driving within one to two weeks.
Technological advances, including special operating tables that allow precise patient positioning, as well as real-time X-ray technology, have helped make the anterior approach easier to perform.
“By the end of the appointment, I was ready,” Dan recalls. “I was like, ‘If you have a sledgehammer and a butter knife, let’s get this done now!’”
Exceeding All Expectations
When Dan arrived at Lansdale Hospital’s OSI Unit in July for his procedure, he knew exactly where to go. He had taken a private tour of the OSI unit, a separate, dedicated nursing unit with its own staff, a few weeks prior.
After he awoke from his hour-long operation, he immediately looked at his incision. “I couldn’t believe how small it was,” he says. He also noticed a difference in the type and intensity of his pain – rather than the stabbing sensation he had endured, there was a soreness that oral pain medications were able to keep in check.
Dan plunged into physical therapy (PT) the next morning. “I walked to the PT room with a walker and came back with a cane,” he says. After one night in the hospital and a day at home, he surprised everyone by appearing at football practice two days after surgery.
“I train all of my players incredibly hard and push them to their limits,” he says. “I wanted to show them that I do the same for myself.”
A Different Kind of Touchdown
Six weeks after surgery, Dan hit a milestone. “I bent down to tie my right shoelace,” he says. “I’d always had to ask my wife to do it before. That was a great day – the day I realized I was finally out of pain.”
“Six months after surgery, I’m enjoying life more than I ever have,” Dan says. “I’d tell others who are considering hip replacement that there’s no reason to live in pain. Having the surgery was truly a life-changing experience.”