I am getting my hip replaced tomorrow. I’m 29 years old.
Common responses to this statement include: “What?” “You?” “Huh?” and “No way!” But yes, it is really happening, and no I am not making this up in any way. Here is the full story:
I grew up doing Tae Kwon Do. It was my ‘thing,’ if you will. Head kicks, board breaking, hardcore stretching, and all, it was everything. Then in 2009, I started to have some hip pain. It mostly hurt when I was stretching, but it was just one of those things that wouldn’t go away. So I went to the doctor and was told, “We don’t see anything wrong. Maybe you just shouldn’t do Tae Kwon Do anymore.”
I made my way to another doctor for a second opinion who showed me my x-ray, drew some arrows and angles on the board, and said, “You have hip dysplasia.” I replied with, “I have what???”
You may have heard of hip dysplasia in your neighbor’s golden retriever, but it does, in fact, occur in humans as well. In people with hip dysplasia, the hip socket doesn’t fully cover the “ball” portion of the hip, which basically causes the hip joint to wear out, leading to arthritis in very young patients. Basically, when I was 18 I already had arthritis. Hip dysplasia is also common in infants, but doctors are usually able to catch it and correct it, which is why it’s not something they look for in older patients. It’s not until very recently that they’ve realized the high number of ‘older’ individuals who have this condition. They aren’t quite sure what causes it, but no matter the cause, there it was, an acute angle on my x-ray, proving that I had this thing.
I had limited treatment options but learned about a new procedure called a “periacetabular osteotomy” or PAO. In a PAO surgery, the doctors go in and literally cut your pelvis, change the angle in a way that gives the hip the proper coverage it needs, and then hold it in place with some screws. It was a rough go. In 2011 very few orthopedic doctors did this procedure, so I had to travel to Chicago from Pittsburgh to have it done. After an 8 hour procedure, I spent 3 days on an epidural and 7 days in the hospital, only to return home and develop a pulmonary embolism (PE) which sent me back to the hospital for another week while I watched an IV drip blood thinners into my system.
The goal of the PAO surgery was to extend the life of my original hip. No one could really tell me how long it was going to last. I definitely thought it would last longer than 9 ½ years, but at the end of the day, I suppose it was “successful.” Since recovering from the PAO surgery I had a brief stint with swimming, cycled not one but TWO century (100 mile) bike rides, did multiple Crossfit competitions, earned my 3rd-degree black belt, got my L1 Crossfit Coaching certification, ran multiple 5Ks, won regional weightlifting competitions, and generally excelled physically. I would venture to say that many of my athletic high points came in the years between 2012 and 2019. Not bad, considering I was told not to do pretty much any of those things. Ever.
Fun things I did after my surgery that I wasn't "supposed" to do:
But recently, I have been having some trouble again. If I move at a certain angle I get a sharp pain, I have NO flexibility or mobility on that side, and my hip generally feels extremely weak. I put off going to the doctor for months, but when things just wouldn’t get better, I decided it was time. Thinking I had some sort of labral tear and expecting arthroscopic surgery in my future, I got the MRI and went into my follow up appointment.
“I think it might be time for you to consider hip replacement surgery.”
Um, excuse me, sir. I am 29. WRONG.
A second opinion can’t hurt, so onto the next doctor. Emory University Hospital. Reputable. Experienced with PAO surgery and juvenile hip replacement. He will surely tell me this isn’t necessary.
“You’ve got some SEVERE arthritis going on, so let’s talk about getting your hip replaced….”
Well, I guess we are doing this.
After numerous conversations with my doctor, coaches, trainers, husband, family, and friends, I decided I could do this. “The point of a hip replacement is to return you to your normal activities,” says my doctor, “No matter what those activities are.”
“Did Crossfit cause this to happen to my hip?” I wondered out loud to him. He replied, “No, I don’t think so. This was going to happen to you no matter what.”
EXCUSE ME!? A DOCTOR WHO DOESN’T HATE CROSSFIT…….
So here I am, going into Emory University Hospital, about to get a titanium rod inserted into my femur and a plastic socket put in. My doctor is using a dual mobility hip replacement, which puts my risk at dislocation (the biggest post-op risk) at less than 1%, so I’m feeling good. I also tested negative for Covid-19, a pre-op requirement at Emory these days, so I’m feeling good about that too-- despite having my brain swabbed to learn that information.
More "things I wasn't supposed to do"
But why am I writing about this? I was really fortunate in that my doctor just happened to do a DOUBLE hip replacement on a patient who is a month older than me. We exchanged numbers and after talking to this patient, I was both reassured and convinced that this was the right thing to do. With that being said, there is almost no information out there about hip replacements in young patients, and the information that does exist is mostly horror stories of surgeries-gone-wrong. The (many) people who have successful surgeries aren’t necessarily writing about it because they are out, living their lives, just like they were told they would. There ARE a few articles about juvenile/young adult hip replacements, but they are scholarly, and I needed a medical dictionary to even graze the surface.
So I decided to document my journey as a resource for others. So another 29 year old going through something similar who is thinking, “Holy &%@#! They want me to do what!?!” might stumble upon this and find some reassurance in the process. It’s also for me-- to keep me moving and motivated. If I have to report my progress publicly, I’m likely to take a few extra steps towards my own recovery.
So that’s the backstory. The rest is uncertain, but I’ve got this. I know I may not be back squatting 200+ lbs again, but I am certainly looking forward to the day that I can go on a walk and have ZERO pain in my hip.
For now, my new theme song:
Hi! I am Nicole Guimaraes. I'm a K-2 music teacher in Falls Church City, VA. I've got an amazing husband and a fabulous dog who keep me busy. If I'm not teaching or walking my dog, you can probably find me at the gym!