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Lee’s story: ‘Do not hesitate’ to get hips replaced

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After having both of his hips replaced, Lee Van De Hey had one lingering thought: Why did I wait five years to have this done?

Van De Hey, who is in his 50s, is a tradesman. He works on heating and air conditioning systems. That’s hard, physical work. Bad hips didn’t help.

How bad?

“It’s this unbelievable pain in both of your hip joints. It’s almost like – if you can imagine – bone on bone. I had no cartilage in either hip. It’s gone. You’re just grinding bone on bone,” he says.

“It probably started (in 2016). It progressively got worse. I would basically take ibuprofen to the max … for a long time. Finally, (in 2020), I’m like, I can’t even function at work. My job is so critical, ladders, stairs. It’s such an important thing. You have to be able to move to do the job.”

Van De Hey initially saw an orthopedic surgeon in the Appleton area, where he lives and works. The recommendation was posterior hip replacement surgery, which accesses the hip joint from the back side, cutting through gluteus maximus muscles and some smaller muscles.

“That would have been one (hip) at a time. So now you’re talking being off work like almost a whole year,” Van De Hey says. That was unacceptable.

Lee Van De Hey, right, helps a friend lift a large red grill.

Then a friend suggested that Van De Hey see Dr. Michael Schnaubelt, an orthopedic surgeon with Orthopedics & Sports Medicine BayCare Clinic in Green Bay.

“He was having a lot of pain in both of his hips, mainly in the groin area, but also some off more to the side of the hip. He was having a lot of difficulty getting around, difficulty walking, going up and down stairs or climbing a ladder. He was having a tough time working,” Schnaubelt says.

Even so, Van De Hey still worried that the timing wasn’t right.

“When I went to see (Schnaubelt), I said ‘Man, isn’t 52 years old, isn’t that a little young to be doing this?’ He’s like, ‘Well, a guy just walked out of here the other day, he’s 44. Is that too young?’”

Schnaubelt recommended anterior hip replacement surgery, which accesses the hip joint from the front of the thigh, working around tendons and muscle tissues rather than cutting through them. That results in faster healing and less pain.

“Lee was an interesting case because both of his hips were bad. That’s another nice thing about doing an anterior approach is we’re able to replace both hips at the same time,” Schnaubelt says. “Overall, recovery is much quicker.”

Van De Hey’s recovery started in September 2020, on the day he had both hips replaced.

“I was up and walking in 10 hours after the surgery with my walker,” he says. “That pain you had, the grinding, the feeling, is gone.”

Physical therapy started two days later, with Van De Hey taking advantage of rehab facilities at Aurora BayCare Health Center in Kaukauna, near his home. Physical therapy lasted three months, right up to the day before Van De Hey returned to work in December 2020.

“He’s really done well,” Schnaubelt says of his patient.

Van De Hey still finds it hard to believe it took him so long to seek help.

“My message is to anybody – anybody – man, do not hesitate. That’s five years of my life that I wasted. Five years of a defeated attitude. Five years of being in pain. That can really depress a person, and it can really mess with your life. Do not hesitate,” he says.

Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Author: Jeff Ash