The osteoarthritis first flared up when Mary Rose was in her late 20s, and by the time she was 44, her hips and knees ached so badly that she could barely walk. She managed only a few hours of sleep at a time before the pain woke her. Even simple things like getting dressed were challenging. She was eventually forced to quit her job as a chef because moving around the kitchen was too painful.
But every specialist she visited over the years told her the same thing: She needed joint replacement surgery, but she would have to wait until she was 50 to have it done. Joint replacement is not considered ideal for younger patients because the implants can wear, loosen or otherwise fail over time, requiring a second, more complex surgery to replace the old implants with new ones.
So Mary Rose just kept going. Unable to cook, she took another job to pay the bills. She sometimes used a wheelchair to get around. She never discussed the pain, but her family and friends could tell something was seriously wrong. One day during water aerobics class, a woman who worked at Rush University Medical Center told Mary Rose she should schedule an appointment with the joint replacement program at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush.
Sooner Rather Than Later
Although she was wary of being told yet again that she was too young for surgery, Mary Rose decided to take a chance at getting her life back sooner rather than later. She made an appointment with Craig Della Valle, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in treating arthritic hips and knees.
Della Valle and joint replacement nurse clinician Kim Chandler, BS, RN, ONC, remembered the first time they saw Mary Rose: It was painful, they said, to watch this young woman struggle to get from wheelchair to exam table. Mary Rose's quality of life was so poor that Della Valle believed the benefits of surgery far outweighed the risks. And he was confident that he could help her achieve a good outcome.
"She had arthritis in both hips and both knees, and she's also a little bit younger, so she was more complex than the average case," says Della Valle. "Given my narrow focus on hip and knee replacement, I'm able to successfully treat patients with complex problems like Mary Rose. And in addition to the surgical expertise, at Rush we have experienced anesthesia teams, nurses and therapists to help give patients back that quality of life."
Back on Her Feet
When Della Valle revealed his plan, Mary Rose was shocked: He proposed replacing both hips, then, three months later, both knees. Since she had contractures — stiffness that prevents full straightening of the legs — on both sides, Della Valle knew it would be pointless to straighten out only one leg: He had to fix all four joints. The hips would come first because they are easier to rehabilitate than knees, and Mary Rose would need pain-free hips to perform the rigorous exercises after her knee replacements.
Mary Rose had come to Rush anticipating a four-year treatment plan; Della Valle had a three-month plan that would get her back on her feet faster than she ever imagined.
Della Valle replaced Mary Rose's hips on July 19, 2004, and her knees three months later. Within a year, after intensive physical therapy, she managed to complete a three-mile charity walk. Today, nothing can keep her down. In addition to walking everywhere, she is able to go out dancing with her friends again. She's also back in the kitchen, having started a freelance catering business.
Best of all, when Mary Rose got married in 2008, she was able to walk down the aisle without the slightest hint of pain.
"I had no idea how bad it was until people, when they saw me after I had my operations, would start crying," she says. "They'd be like, 'Oh, I'm so glad you had that done. I was so worried about you.' I was glad I had it done, too. It made me a whole person again."