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Inside The Operating Room: Frank Vascellaro’s Major Hip Surgery

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By Frank Vascellaro, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – For weeks, viewers were hearing the phrase, “Frank Vascellaro has the night off.” He wasn’t on an extended vacation; Vascellaro was recovering from hip resurfacing surgery.

It’s a surgical alternative to a total hip replacement that some younger patients are considering. Vascellaro shares with you the ins and outs of undergoing this surgery, what it takes to recover and what the future holds for his hips.

The day before my hip surgery, I was actually walking pretty well.

“I’m not limping as bad as other days,” I told my colleagues. “Some days it’s pretty good. Other days, I’m dragging it around and I look like Frankenstein.”

A few weeks before the surgery, Amelia put her foot down.

“I finally said, ‘you need to go to doctor,” she said. “You need to see what’s going on.”

I had tried a lot of things — cortisone, chiropractic, acupressure, weightlifting — they all helped ease the pain for a while, but the pain kept coming back.

Dr. Scott Anseth told me I have osteoarthritis. We scheduled my surgery for April 1 at Abbott Northwestern. I didn’t know which kind it would be; total hip replacement or the less invasive hip resurfacing. I wouldn’t know until I woke up from surgery.

Anseth explained the difference between the two procedures.

“A replacement and a resurfacing do almost the exact same thing,” he said. “It’s just that the resurfacing preserves a little bit more bone.”

With a resurfacing, Anseth reshapes the head of the hip and puts a metal cap on it. With a full hip replacement, he would put a titanium stem down into the thigh bone.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said, as he walked into the operating room.

It’s a good thing I was out cold during surgery. When I watched the video later, I couldn’t believe how much hammering and drilling was involved.

Once Anseth got a good look at my hip, he decided to go ahead with the resurfacing, which is also known as the Birmingham hip. The technique was perfected by doctors in Birmingham, England who wanted to fix hips without removing so much bone.

The Birmingham uses a bigger ball, so it’s less likely to become dislocated. It also uses metal-on-metal instead of metal-on-plastic. That seems to work fine for men, but some women have had problems with the metal-on-metal combination.

Resurfacing is considered more challenging surgery to perform. My doctor calls it an art.

“It’s hard to describe, but it’s kind of like when you play golf and you hit a good shot, and you just know it as soon as it leaves the club,” he said. “That sort of looking at it, reaming it, trying to get it perfect, ’cause really our goal is perfect every time.”

Just before closing, Anseth does something he calls the “sleep test.” He moves my leg up and around, bending my knee up toward my chest.

“If it’s stable here, it’s probably going to be really good,” he said during the procedure. “We can bring it up and I don’t think Frank’s leg has seen that far up in a long time.”

After the surgery, Anseth told Amelia the good news.

“For a young guy like him, the biggest thing I like best about it is we preserved a bunch of this native bone,” he said. “So hopefully in 20 or 25 years, if he needs to have a second surgery, it’ll be a little bit more like the first time around.”

The next day at Abbott Northwestern’s Joint Replacement Center, I met other hip and knee replacement patients. One of them was even younger than me. He was on his second Birmingham hip replacement.

The whole group had lunch and did physical therapy together. Thanks to camaraderie and competition, doctors and therapists believe it works better than individual therapy.

Afterward, anyone who wanted it could take part in a free acupuncture session. It was the most relaxed I’d felt in months. I got to go home the next day with a long list of exercises of to do.

Two weeks later, I was at Anseth’s office at Twin Cities Orthopedics with Amelia. Anseth checked out the nine-inch scar on my butt.

“It looks perfect, that’s an absolutely perfect incision,” he said. “You look great, so as of today, you can go to weight-bearing as tolerated.”

I lived with pain for 14 months. Now, I’m almost ready to get rid of my crutches. I feel good. It’s been a long time since I felt good. If I have a regret, it’s that I didn’t get hip resurfacing sooner.

Unfortunately, I’ll probably need to replace the other hip within the next few years. Anseth said we won’t talk about that until we have to.

Paula Engelking, Producer
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