Joint replacements for younger generation

December 2, 2012

Softball has been a lifelong passion for Jessica Ras.

"I probably started playing softball when I was five, I don't know anything else," she said.

Just months into freshman year at East Stroudsburg University, Jessica developed an aggressive type of Leukemia.

Fortunately with intense chemotherapy, the cancer went into remission.

However, the steroids she took for treatment destroyed her hip joints. It's a condition called Avascular Necrosis.

"The bone cells died from the lack of oxygen and all the nutrients they need to survive," said Dr. Peter Sharkey, of Rothman at Riddle Hospital in Media, Pa.

Jessica's once-solid bone became soft, and started to collapse - causing excruciating pain.

"I couldn't sit. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't walk. I couldn't do anything," said Jessica.

Hip replacements would get her walking again, but doctors doubted her future in the sport she loved.

"The first one said I couldn't play softball again, second one, the same thing," said Jessica.

So did a third doctor but instead of striking out, Jessica hit a home run when she saw Dr. Sharkey.

"He said 'no, you'll be fine," said Jessica.

Doctors have been reluctant to replace hip joints in younger patients, because the artificial ones may need to be replaced again in 15 years.

The active lives of younger people could shorten the lifespan of those joints even more.

However, new materials and new designs are changing that.

Dr. Sharkey uses a hip joint that has two points of movement, not the standard one point.

That makes it less likely to dislocate, reduces the wear and tear, and gives greater mobility.

After recovery, Jessica was cleared to play softball again and is now back on the mound.

"Awesome! Like everything in the past is over," said Jessica.

There are two hip replacement joints - this one and another - that are approved by the Food & Drug Administration.

In lab tests, they've gone through 40 years of simulated use, with few signs of wear.

Dr. Sharkey says developers are working on making these longer-lasting joint replacements for other joints in the body as well.

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