A Fine Art

Innovative implant protocol allows patients to go home hours after surgery.

During a four-year period between October 1968 and December 1972, NASA launched 11 crews of astronauts toward the moon as part of its groundbreaking Apollo program. 

As part of her job working for one of NASA’s largest contractors, Alice Craig had what amounted to a front-row seat for every one of those historic launches.

“I worked for the Bendix Corp. back then and one of my jobs was to type up the launch damage assessment reports after each launch,” Alice reveals. “I worked in the Vehicle Assembly Building, which is the building where they built the rockets.”

Even up a flight of stairs, Alice is now walking pain-free following outpatient hip replacement surgery.

Even up a flight of stairs, Alice is now walking pain-free following outpatient hip replacement surgery.

Following completion of the Apollo program, Alice went to work for an attorney as a transcriptionist. Now 72 but only “semi-retired,” she specializes in transcribing court trials.

“It’s a totally different world, but I’m always learning something from it,” says Alice, who can relate to many of the human struggles she records. After all, she has a tale of woe all her own.

It started about 10 years ago, when arthritis in Alice’s hips began to eat away at her quality of life. At first, Alice suffered from what can best be described as tolerable pain, which she addressed with over-the-counter medications and natural supplements.

Those treatments did little to alleviate her discomfort, however, so when the pain worsened, Alice visited a doctor who recommended injections. Like the other remedies, the injections provided only temporary relief. For permanent relief, Alice was told she would need hip replacement surgery. 

The idea of surgery terrified Alice. Slowed by her fears, she waited a couple of years before seriously considering surgery. By then, the damage arthritis had done to her right hip in particular was so extensive that some doctors refused to treat her. Another told her the damage to her hip was so great that not even surgery would help.

“By then I was at a point where I couldn’t exercise or even walk to my car without help,” Alice laments. “I had gone from using a cane to using a walker, and I needed one of those (electric) carts to get around at the grocery store.

“I finally decided to go to a chiropractor, and she told me, One day you’re going to be in a wheelchair if you don’t take care of this. I was in tears after that, so I finally went to see a surgeon.”

Life-Changing Seminar 

The surgeon encouraged Alice to lose some weight before considering surgery. She heeded that advice, and while working toward that goal, she learned of a seminar sponsored by Outpatient Joint Replacement Center of America.

Alice attended the seminar, which was conducted by Philip E. Clifford, MD, AAHKS, AAOS, who specializes in a protocol for the surgical replacement of hips and knees that eliminates the need for long postoperative hospital stays.

After the seminar, Dr. Clifford spent an hour answering Alice’s many questions about his specialty. Then Dr. Clifford watched Alice walk to her car.

“Her vehicle was parked in a handicap spot about 20 yards from the restaurant where we held the seminar,” Dr. Clifford remembers. “But watching Alice struggle to get to her car was just heartbreaking. It took her four or five minutes to cover those 20 yards.”

Dr. Clifford spent that night reviewing the MRI and medical records Alice left with him and later called to tell her he could help her. During a return call two days later, Alice accepted Dr. Clifford’s offer to replace her hips using his unique surgical protocol.

“One of the factors that’s most unique about our protocol is the medicines we use,” Dr. Clifford explains. “One of those medicines is called Exparel®. It’s a long-lasting, non-opioid, local anesthetic that can last for two to three days.

“Another feature that’s unique about our protocol is the surgical technique we use. With our hip surgery, for example, we use a technique where we are not assaulting the muscle and detach only one tendon from the hip, which is then repaired anatomically.”

The technique results in less trauma to the hip and less blood loss. There is also a diminished chance that the length of the leg will be changed, according to Dr. Clifford.

In addition, Dr. Clifford’s hip procedures are performed through an incision three to four inches long. The small incision is what allows for the preservation of muscle attachments, which is why patients are back on the move hours after surgery.

“Patients can return to activities almost immediately,” Dr. Clifford ensures. “In fact, we encouraged them to do just that. Another important aspect of what we do is spend an incredible amount of time educating each patient before surgery. We spend 45 minutes to an hour getting them ready for surgery and for what to expect and do afterward.

“When our patients go home after surgery, they know that between 4 and 7 o’clock that night we’ll be calling to check on them. It’s not them calling us; it’s us calling them. That level of patient care does not exist in many places these days.”

“Like a Miracle” 

The damage caused by advanced end stage arthritis to Alice’s right hip was far greater than the damage caused to her left hip, so Dr. Clifford chose to replace Alice’s right hip first. That procedure was done on September 11, 2019. 

“It was an awesome experience,” Alice recalls. “It was like a miracle. I was still in recovery when they came and asked me to get up and walk around a little bit. When I did, there was no pain in that hip at all. I couldn’t believe it.”

To expedite Alice’s recovery, Dr. Clifford urged her to have her second hip replaced a few months after the first procedure. Alice wound up waiting nine months, which slowed her recovery, but the outcome from the second surgery matched the first.

“I used to walk with a limp because of that left hip, but Dr. Clifford fixed that, and now I walk with no pain in my hips at all,” Alice raves. “I feel fantastic, and I don’t need to use a cane, a walker or even a cart at the grocery store anymore. And after that second surgery, therapy was a breeze.

“It’s just amazing what Dr. Clifford was able to do for me. He and ‘Mattie’ (physician assistant director Paulina J. Collier, MPAS, PA-C) are a great team, and they have really got that replacement procedure down to a fine art. I adore them both and just wish them nothing but success.

“But I know they’re going to be successful because they’re so caring and understanding. I think so much of them that I carry their business cards and brochures with me. I hand them out to people I know who are struggling because I would do anything to help them.”

© FHCN article by Roy Cummings. Photo by Jordan Pysz. js
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