Patient’s total hip replacement restores athletic life

By Nikki Kallio

For three years, Jill Rasmussen could feel it happening:

Growing pain in her left hip that slowly took away her ability to enjoy the activities that were important to her.

That’s hard enough for anyone. But when you’re the highly active executive director of the Apple Creek YMCA in Appleton, slowing down isn’t an option. Rasmussen, who was an avid runner and had once completed a full marathon, now needed to hang onto her husband, Brian, for support when she walked just a few blocks.

Jill tried it all: easing up on her exercise routine, adding ice, heat, stretches, yoga, chiropractic care, massage and physical therapy.

“Being in the health and fitness industry, I thought, OK, I’m going to do everything I possibly can to try to fix this or improve this or strengthen that,” Jill said. “And literally, I had exhausted my list.”

By October 2018, Jill had lived with the pain for about three years. It was continuing to get worse, even waking her up in the night and preventing her from doing the things she loved. She could still manage riding her spin bike, “but when I got off the bike I could barely walk anymore. That is so not me, and I started to wear it on my face.”

After some frustrating and inconclusive exams at another health organization, Jill received recommendations for the Orthopedic & Sports Institute of the Fox Valley from friends who’d had joint replacements. OSI is part of the NOVO Health panel of providers.

Jill was connected with Dr. David Kuplic, who ordered an MRI, which revealed some serious inflammation and cartilage loss. For Jill, that actually wasn’t bad news.

“It was such a hopeful moment, that somebody is acknowledging how I feel and wants to help me,” Jill said.

Things moved quickly after that. With a new grandson on the way and a trip to Mexico planned, Jill thought it would be best to wait until the new year for surgery.

“But I wouldn’t have been able to do anything on the trip if I were to wait, because I was so miserable,” she said. “And the crazy thing is my little grandson was born six weeks early on Halloween. So Nov. 9, I had the surgery, and I’m a new woman.”

Jill had a total hip replacement, staying several nights in the Recovery Inn at OSI.

Not one to let the grass grow under her, Jill was ready to get back on track. Normally, total hip replacement patients can expect a three-to-six-month recovery. That time frame made Jill nervous, not wanting to sit at home that long.

“I’m such a social person — my life, my work, is social.” She didn’t have much to worry about — she was back at work at the YMCA on a modified schedule within two weeks.

At 55, Jill is younger than most hip replacement patients, and went into surgery fit and healthy. She also stuck solidly to her physical therapy and recovery plans, made easy by OSI, which gave her care cards laying out what to expect and what to do at certain intervals. Those cards were always available online for review, which was helpful in the fog of recovery and pain medication.

Jill’s care team also included nurse practitioner Brad Borgen and physical therapist Chris Hupf from Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine.

“They’re also amazed at my recovery, but first of all, I’ve been a really good patient,” Jill said. “I think from the get-go I’ve been so informed and empowered, and I’m so motivated to feel better to have my life back.”

It also probably helped that Jill, who has a degree in wellness lifestyle development from University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point as well as two years of nursing study, wanted to know all the details that other patients might rather forgo. She asked Dr. Kuplic to tell her exactly what was done during the surgery, including replacement of the ball joint.

Those details helped her to understand how each physical therapy movement or exercise would help her recovery.

“It just fascinates me, how the body works … I’ve been able to utilize that passion every day in my YMCA work, and now in a personal way with my own recovery,” Jill said.

Brian said the stay in Recovery Inn immediately following surgery helped facilitate healing. Most of the Rasmussen family, including their daughter and her brand new baby, came to visit during Jill’s recovery.

“Just to be in an environment where it was so easy to visit gave her the opportunity to have life seem a little bit more normal — you feel like you’re in a little resort, a little surgery bed-and breakfast,” he said.

Brian also said they went home armed with important information about care, which also aided Jill’s recovery.

“I think they do an excellent job of being able to help you frame your mind up for what needs to be done and how you can take preventive steps,” Brian said.

For instance, the care staff made sure the Rasmussens considered possible obstacles, including that an excited dog at home could have the potential to cause a fall. They talked about other hazards such as rugs, and about wound care and dressing.

After about two weeks, Jill was able to drive again, partially because the surgery was on the left hip (right hip surgeries interfere a little longer with a patient’s ability to drive). So she asked about going back to work and getting back on her bike.

Healing will still take a little time.

In January, Jill and Brian were able to visit Mexico as planned, and while Jill wanted to do yoga on the beach, she felt like the sand was too unstable. “I’m not going to be a risk-taker with these new parts — it’s just the smart thing to do. I’ve got some time, you know, but I’ve been so zealous and very eager about this recovery, and I just have to rein myself in sometimes.”

But Jill is already back to teaching two tai chi classes at the Y, which help people to build their balance. “It’s funny, because now I need to be a student of my own program, because my balance is so different,” she said.

Jill’s providers have told her that once she reaches a year from surgery, she wouldn’t notice that she had new parts in her body other than the scar that remained.

They said that would be her only reminder, as by then she’ll be doing everything that she used to do.

“Sign me up for that,” she said.