Baby boomers going under the knife to stay active

July 17, 2008 9:08:26 PM PDT
Cathy McCullough, 51, of Allentown is reaching new heights. Rock climbing is just one of many challenges she's conquered in her very active life. She's also run14 marathons, gone skydiving, white-water rafting and biking. "To move and be able to do what I want to do that's really living for me," she said.

But about three years ago, she was forced to give it all up. "There's a little bit of depression that goes with that."

Like many baby boomers, Cathy has osteoarthritis. Her doctor, Dr. Richard Rothman, founder of the Rothman Institute at Jefferson, said she needed a bilateral hip replacement It's a procedure becoming more and more common. In fact, from just 2000 to 2004, the number of hip replacements jumped nearly 54-percent. Knee replacements went up by almost 60-percent.

Dr. Rothman invited Action News into his operating room to see the procedure and how it's gotten better.

He said in the past, surgeons would tell patients to wait until they're practically immobile before getting surgery. Now that's changed because the implants today last longer and the recovery is quicker due to better pain medicine, specifically a drug called Depadur. "It's just one shot but the medicine stays there and gives almost complete pain relief for three days," Rothman said.

For Cathy, she was up and walking the night of surgery. But although she didn't have any pain, she admits surgery wasn't without its problems. She got sick from the medication. But Cathy says overall her recovery went smoothly. She's part of a growing trend of patients to have both hips done at the same time. "I didn't want to have to go back and do it a second time," she said, adding, "I wanted to be once and done."

Rothman said if patients are young and healthy, doing both sides at once is just as safe as doing one at a time. And despite having a major operation, he said patients in the end will be healthier because they'll get their lives back. "Exercise is the fountain of youth," he said.

That's something Cathy has known from the start. She's now seven months recovered. "I don't know if I'll be 100-percent as if it never happened but I think I'll be close to that," she said.

Risks of joint replacement surgery include a one-percent risk for infection or a blood clot. Statistically, one in every 1,000 patients dies. Experts say it is a last resort and should be done only when the pain is no longer tolerable.

Still, the surgery is becoming so popular, surgeons say there won't be enough of them to keep up with demand in the coming years.