Surgery brings new life to dying bones

September 4, 2013 4:31:04 PM PDT
We're talking about a condition where your bones are basically breaking down, especially around large joints like the hips, knees or shoulders. The most common treatment is replacement surgery. But now there is another option. We followed one local man through it.

"Yeah there is really not any pain now," says Adam Segal, of Moorestown, New Jersey.

About the time Segal was finishing law school, he started having pain in his hip.

It didn't get worse, and didn't slow him down, so he put it out of his mind.

"I figured I was 25 at the time, so it couldn't be anything serious," he remarked.

But with his dad's urging, he got an MRI, and was shocked to learn the bones in his hips were dying from avascular necrosis, or AVN.

Most cases are in men under 40. Chemotherapy, or steroid medications can cause it, but many times, the cause is unknown.

For years, the traditional fix is an artificial joint.

But now, Dr. Scott Levin at Penn Medicine is one of just 2 or 3 doctors in the U-S also using another approach.

"It's rebuilding your hip with your own tissue," says Dr. Levin.

Dr. Levin took a piece of living bone from Adam's lower leg and put it into the thighbone, or femur, where bone was dying.

"What we have is a live living bone in here with its own blood supply," he says.

That blood supply helps the head of the femur heal, so it can support Adam's weight.

One big drawback is that healing takes about 6 months - so one hip at a time.

"The recovery is just a long time of no weight bearing," Segal says with a sigh.

Still, it spares him getting artificial hips every 15 years or so.

"We're looking for outcomes in medicine that are long-lasting," says Dr. Levin.

Segal knows how he'll celebrate when it's all over.

"I want to play golf - that's the first thing i want to do, definitely," he says with a smile.

And that should be soon.

Dr. Levin says the surgery can't be done if the top of the thigh bone has already started to collapse, so it's important to catch the damage early.

If you have any lasting pain to your bones or joints, you should be checked by a healthcare provider.


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