During his teen years and into early adulthood, Chris Libert punished his body.
As goalkeeper for the East Carolina University soccer team, he dove with reckless abandon, landing full force on the turf as he knocked away a shot destined for the net. Sometimes, a loose soccer ball would squirt out into an open space and he would dive on the ball just ahead of an opponent who was charging full speed from the opposite direction. Sometimes, the result was a violent collision, and Chris' hips often absorbed the brunt of the damage.
After a couple of seasons playing professional soccer, Chris continued an active lifestyle of coaching and playing recreational soccer, golfing, and playing sand volleyball up to four nights a week.
By his mid-30s, the cartilage in Chris' hips had completely worn away, and his hip bones were starting to fuse together. This gradually limited his mobility, and it became harder to participate in the active sports that helped fuel his life.
"It changed the way I walk; I couldn't bend over," said Chris, now the assistant athletic director at Cape Fear Community College. "I almost went into depression. I couldn't go boating or golfing. It affected my knees and lower back, and when I was coaching, I had to sit down at practice."
After consulting with several sports medicine doctors, Chris was referred to Dr. Scott Hannum, who recommended complete bilateral hip replacement at the NHRMC Orthopedic Hospital.
"Dr. Hannum said, 'Let's get your life back,'" Chris said.
"The arthritis was so severe that his hips were completely deformed," Dr. Hannum said. "He had no motion at all."
Hip Surgery Squared
Double hip replacement surgery isn't common on patients of any age, so performing the surgery on a 41-year-old was especially rare for Dr. Hannum, who is recognized as an expert and has taught hip replacement surgery to doctors in Australia and Taiwan as well as here in the United States.
The procedure involves removing the arthritic femoral head and hip socket. This is then replaced with an artificial joint made of titanium, ceramic and hardened plastic. Current surgical technique allows for all of the arthritic and deformed bone to be removed while completely preserving all the normal muscles.
"One hip replacement is a big operation; two hips is a huge operation," said Dr. John Liguori, Medical Director of the NHRMC Rehabilitation Hospital.
After surgery, Chris was admitted to the Rehab Hospital, where he relearned how to walk. He started with a walker, and every day, Chris made strides. He appreciates the care from the rehab team at NHRMC.
"I was in the Rehab Hospital about six days," he said. "That's an absolute blessing of a place. That's where I learned to walk again."
Chris accepts that high-impact activities such as playing goalie in competitive soccer matches are behind him. So he took up cycling and on the two-month anniversary of his surgery, he rode 10 miles pain-free. On the one-year anniversary of his surgery, he rode 50 miles without pain.
He calls his hip surgery a rebirth. He has been able to coach his college and youth soccer teams without having to sit on the bench. And when his goalies need skills practice, he doesn't hesitate to fire soccer balls at them.
The lifespan of Chris' new hips is somewhat unknown, but with today’s medical advances, he can certainly expect several decades of strength and mobility from his artificial hips. He may need a revision around age 60, Dr. Hannum estimated. But that remains to be seen. Technology advances so rapidly that longevity studies are almost irrelevant before they are complete.
"With the improved instrumentation and techniques we're using today, patients recover more quickly than ever before," Dr. Hannum said. "This is the best time in history to have joint replacement surgery."
Bottom photo courtesy of Will Page Photography