Not your grandmother’s grandmother

If you spotted lean and lithe Loren Wickman gliding away on the elliptical machine at the gym, you’d never guess she is the proud grandmother of nine. Nor would you suspect that she is all too familiar with the pain of arthritis, or that she has recently undergone total hip replacement surgery — twice.

A diagnosis of arthritis — times two

Loren has always believed that life is to be enjoyed as a participant — not a spectator. She loves to walk, hike, golf and ski, or do most anything that gets her out into the crisp Pacific Northwest air.

Twelve years ago, Loren noticed a nagging pain in her groin whenever she was out jogging. Visits with three different doctors resulted in a diagnosis of arthritis in both hips. Although the disease is degenerative — not to mention painful — Loren was offered the same discouraging advice by all three physicians: you’re too young for hip replacement, so you’ll just have to live with the pain until you’re older.

Pain is normal — right?

Loren did indeed follow doctors’ orders: she lived with the pain. She continued her long daily walks with her husband, worked out at the gym most days, went swimming and chased her grandchildren everywhere. She simply did it all with ever-aching joints.

Pain became such a part of her life that Loren began to think it was normal. In 2007, however, even everyday activities became a chore. It hurt to walk the aisles of the grocery store. She had to think twice before getting up out of a chair. Climbing up and down the stairs was a major ordeal. In short, her hips hurt — badly — all the time. Loren wisely concluded that her condition had progressed beyond “normal” and it was time for professional help.

A careful search for the right doctor

As with most aspects of her life, Loren was extra diligent in searching for an orthopedic surgeon. She interviewed three, and although they were certainly competent and professional, she didn’t feel any real connection with them. Then several women at the gym — some of whom had hip issues of their own — suggested that she make an appointment with Dr. Sean Toomey.

At their very first meeting, Loren was impressed with his personable and professional approach. Then Dr. Toomey did something that made an even greater impression: he told Loren that she needn’t suffer any longer.

“He asked me why I was such a stoic,” recalls Loren, “and wasn’t I tired of all that pain? That was a real ‘aha!’ moment for me. After being told for so many years that I had to wait to seek treatment, Dr. Toomey was giving me permission to get help now.”

An end to the waiting game

After examining Loren and carefully studying her X-rays, Dr. Toomey confirmed her condition: degenerative arthro-arthritis of the hip with protrusio acetabuli. “That’s a technical way of saying that the head of Loren’s femur, or thigh bone, was actually encroaching into the wall of the hip socket toward the pelvis,” explains Dr. Toomey. “If left untreated, it would migrate right through the pelvic wall.”

Sound judgment, along with a fair amount of caution, are required whenever considering total hip replacement surgery. Although technology improves every year, the fact remains that artificial joints have a limited life. “If people take care of their new hips, we hope they’ll last for 15 or 20 years,” states Dr. Toomey. “Many of our patients will live much longer than that, so we generally encourage them to wait as long as possible before having the surgery.

“Loren’s condition put her in a unique category. All that pain was clearly throwing her off her game. She had waited long enough — it was definitely time to help Loren.”

Loren starts the New Year with a new hip

That help came in January 2008, in the form of a total replacement of her right hip. “Everything went extremely well,” says Loren. “The moment I woke up from surgery, the arthritic pain was gone. Yes, I had surgical pain — but that’s different, and it improved every day.”

Loren’s surgery required her to use a walker for six weeks. She then graduated to a cane, but quickly tossed it aside. After seven weeks she was back at the gym, swimming and walking in the pool. Just a few weeks later, she was returning to her old form on the bike and elliptical machine.

A quick recovery leads to an earlier second surgery

Loren had suffered from arthritic pain for so long, she’d forgotten what a healthy hip feels like. Now she knew, and it felt great. It felt so great, in fact, that Loren was eager for her left hip to feel every bit as good as the right one. While the plan all along was to have both hips replaced, she also planned to wait about a year for the second surgery. But Loren’s first recovery went so well, in July 2008, she headed back to Swedish for new hip number two.

Another new hip in a beautiful new hospital

Give Loren credit for impeccable timing. Her first hip replacement was done at the main Swedish Medical Center on First Hill. Just prior to her second surgery, the brand new Swedish Orthopedic Institute — a state-of-the-art hospital dedicated exclusively to orthopedic care — opened its doors.

In a way, it’s almost too bad Loren couldn’t have stayed longer in the beautiful new building. She was on her way home again only two days after her second surgery. Perhaps because she knew exactly what to expect this time, her recovery went even more smoothly than the first.

“I was up walking the next day,” she recalls. “I did my exercises every day, and in only six weeks, I was back at the gym to walk in the pool. I felt so good that I really had to remind myself to take it easy.”

Another year older — and so much better

Loren’s new, pain-free hips now take her all over the place. She and her husband enjoy long walks again. She makes certain her favorite bike and elliptical machine gather no dust. She’s seriously thinking about recharging her golf game. “It’s just amazing to have your life back and to be living pain-free,” she enthuses.

Does Loren have any regrets about her two hip replacement surgeries at Swedish? “Only one,” she reflects. “I sure wish I’d done them sooner.”
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Swedish Orthopedic Institute
Dr. Sean Toomey

Dr Toomey
Dr. Sean Toomey, a surgeon at the Swedish Orthopedic Institute, has long been proud of the personal, attentive care Swedish provides to its patients. That pride kicked up a notch in 2007 when he and his colleagues began to offer the same excellent care in a beautiful new hospital — and this one is dedicated exclusively to orthopedics.

“The Swedish Orthopedic Institute was specifically designed to perform joint replacement surgery,” states Dr. Toomey. “Surgeons, nurses and operating room technicians all had a voice in planning a hospital for maximum safety, efficiency and patient comfort. All the patient rooms have extra-wide sliding doors. The nurses are connected with a special voice activation system so we can contact them instantly. You’ll find wireless programming throughout so we can monitor our patients electronically.

“Orthopedic surgery isn’t always as straightforward as you might think,” continues Dr. Toomey. “We’ll go into surgery with plans A, B and C in mind, and often have to make changes as we operate. Within minutes, I have absolutely everything I need and my team is prepared. That’s what makes Swedish a great place to practice.”