“I got my life back”

Spring 2016

How two total hip replacement surgeries helped a wife and mother regain control over her life and get back to what’s important

Sitting in her bright country home on a sunny weekday morning, Brenda Devries, 46, seems content and at peace with the hustle and bustle of her busy household. With a passion for working in her garden and going on hikes and bike rides, Brenda is an active mother of four. It is difficult to imagine that it was less than a year ago that Brenda was unable to do any of the things she loved due to immobilizing pain in her hip.

“I was not the mom I wanted to be, and I was not the person I wanted to be,” she says solemnly. “I went from being a fully functioning, hands-on mom to not being able to live a normal life. It was just impossible to function.”

It began with discomfort in her right knee. Brenda attributed the pain to working outside. Little did she know at the time that the pain was destined to take a leading role in her life.

“For people ultimately requiring a hip replacement, pain often begins in and about the hip, but could also radiate down towards the knee,” says Dr. James Howard, an orthopaedic surgeon at LHSC. “Early on there is intermittent pain, perhaps after activity, and as time goes on it progresses and can become constant.”

Brenda’s daily routine took longer and was more painful than she could handle. Even the task of walking up and down the stairs left her feeling exhausted.

“I would drag myself up using the railing. Whenever I would go downstairs I would bring a list with me so that I wouldn’t forget to do anything. But sometimes I would just stay in the basement because even going down the stairs was too much.”

As her discomfort became more intrusive and frequent, visiting a physiotherapist offered only temporary relief.

“I remember they would take my leg and stretch it out straight, and it would take the pressure off,” she recalls. “It was immense relief. I said, ‘wow, that feels great! Can you do that all day?’”

Using a cane and a walker around her house, Brenda attempted to modify her daily routine. Without the ability to get into her car, or to sleep comfortably at night, the pain was completely debilitating. But perhaps most disheartening was that Brenda felt that the important role she was meant to play was out of grasp.

“You feel bad as a mom thinking you’re not able to do things for your family. You just want to be able to do what you’re called to do and live the life you’re called to live.”

Brenda went to her family doctor for X-rays of her right hip. When the X-rays showed that she would likely need total hip replacement surgery, she was referred to London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) in 2013.

At LHSC, Brenda learned that she was a candidate for a new approach to delivering care for patients with severe hip arthritis. At the time, LHSC’s orthopaedic team was working towards shortening the length of stay for patients requiring a total hip replacement. As an inpatient procedure, Brenda was told she could return home the day after her surgery.

Jennifer Van Bussel is a physiotherapist who provides education and treatment to patients both pre- and post-operatively.

“When we see patients prior to surgery we go through a comprehensive assessment with them and provide them with any exercise that we may see fit to help them prepare for surgery,” says Jennifer. “Exercising post-operatively is essential. The surgery itself is only part of the solution to regaining full function.”

Surgery on her right hip provided immediate relief. Brenda felt normal in three months’ time after sticking to a strict physiotherapy regimen.

In the months that followed, Brenda noticed that her left hip was becoming increasingly problematic. To her dismay, she was experiencing the same disruptions to her life all over again. She knew another surgery was likely ahead.

“Nothing really gave me relief. We have a hot tub, but even trying to get in was like a circus act!” she laughs. “You can take pain pills, but even when they work you always have pain in the back of your mind. I’d see people and put on a plastic smile and say, ‘Oh, I’m doing great!’ But really I wasn’t.”

Brenda didn’t feel nervous going into her second surgery – she felt that it couldn’t come soon enough. “I was so looking forward to not having pain,” she says. “I literally couldn’t function.”

Brenda’s surgeon performed her second hip replacement in 2015 using the same type of treatment plan as her right side. By this time, the approach had proven so effective that Brenda’s surgery was scheduled as an outpatient procedure, meaning she would return to the comfort of her home the same day as her surgery.

Many factors need to be taken into consideration to determine whether a patient is a candidate for an outpatient procedure. This involves an entire culture of everyone who is involved with the patient.

“The patient should have a supportive family and live relatively close to the hospital,” says Dr. Howard. “It is not simply the surgical steps in the operating room. It’s also about having physiotherapy intervene early, having the nurses know we’re trying to support getting the patient to their home environment the day of the surgery, and providing the education for the patient throughout the process so they know what to expect after their surgery.”

While the recovery time was longer for her left hip, Brenda was determined to resume a normal life.

“After the second surgery I went back to LHSC for physiotherapy for three weeks. I did the exercises they told me to do all the time, because I knew that doing them was going to help me. Each time I went back they gave me more to do. By the third appointment, they said I was in good shape and didn’t need to return.”

Keeping a positive outlook on the whole experience has been vital for her to grow personally and as a mother. It is a testament to her optimism that Brenda remembers that time in her life with fondness, despite how difficult it was.

“When you go through things in life, you figure out who you are and where your faith lies,” she says. “I have precious memories of my family doting on me. You really see people’s true colours when you’re in pain and how they help you. It’s kind of a bittersweet thing.”

“In the end, it was totally a relief for my family,” she adds. “They got mom back.”

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Brenda Devries.
Brenda and her husband Gerrie enjoy a walk with their kids, Stacey and Justin, and the family dog, Gizmo.
Jennifer Van Bussel is a physiotherapist who provides pre- and post-operative education to patients.