Thanks to another hip replacement surgery, a fit grandmother is back to her active lifestyle.
Mary Jo Hartmann, 72, enjoys gardening, taking brisk walks and attending her grandchildren’s hockey games. But in the spring of 2019, she was experiencing a deep, sharp ache — and sometimes stabbing pain — in her left hip. She found herself stuck inside her home and miserable. “It was too painful and exhausting to drag myself up and down my front steps,” says the Hamilton resident, who had been so fit she routinely took seven- to eight-mile walks every day. “The pain was so intense I couldn’t sleep for more than about two hours at a time,” she recalls. “I tried all sorts of medications and injections, but nothing helped.”
Mary Jo sensed it was time to return to her orthopedic surgeon, John Schnell, MD, who had replaced her right hip at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Hamilton in 2015. When she saw Dr. Schnell, he told her she should consider replacing her left hip. She didn’t hesitate. “I had such wonderful results my first go-round with him, I didn’t think twice about having the procedure again,” says Mary Jo.
Mary Jo’s first hip replacement had been done using Mako robotic-arm-assisted surgery, in which a CT scan of a patient’s hip is taken and a three-dimensional model is created based on his or her anatomy. During surgery, the physician guides the robotic arm and positions the hip implant based on the plan. This helps to ensure greater precision and typically results in a quicker recovery. “Mary Jo was the first patient I used the Mako robot on, and by the time she returned four years later, I’d done another 600 of them,” says Dr. Schnell.
A Rapid Recovery. Mary Jo had the surgery on August 12, 2019, and it was a breeze, she says. “An hour-and-a-half after I returned from the recovery room, the nurses had me walking up and down the hall,” she recalls. She remembered many of the nurses from her previous surgery. “The staff at RWJUH Hamilton is just so incredible,” she says. “Everyone — the doctors on call, the nurses and the woman who cleaned my room — spoke to me with such respect. It’s clear that they all care deeply about their patients.” Her visit was short and sweet: The morning after her surgery, she was discharged.
Mary Jo spent the next three days at her son’s house before returning to her own home. Like the first time around, her recovery was easy. Although she had to use a cane for support for the first two weeks, she found that she was able to resume activities like going up and down the stairs almost immediately. “It was strange being able to do this without clutching onto the railing for dear life,” she says.
Since she’d been in such good shape before the surgery, Mary Jo didn’t require any physical therapy. She gradually eased into her walking routine — first cautiously strolling half a mile, then a mile, and then gradually picking up the pace and distance as the weeks went by. At her six-week checkup, Dr. Schnell cleared her to return to the gym. It wasn’t long before she was able to resume her three-times-a-week, 90-minute resistance training routine. “I’ve always prided myself on taking meticulous care of my body,” she says.
No More Pain. These days, Mary Jo spends her time puttering around her garden, baking for family and friends and relishing her time with her grandkids. “I feel like I’ve gotten my life back,” she says. She’s set ambitious goals for herself: Over the next few months, she hopes to ease into walking eight miles a day.
Mary Jo’s presurgical fitness routine set her up for a successful recovery, says Dr. Schnell. “The more fit a person is, the more likely he or she is to bounce back quickly after joint replacement,” he explains. While a hip replacement tends to involve less recovery time than a knee replacement — which can require months of physical therapy — he warns that people should have realistic expectations. It’s unlikely that hip replacement patients will be able to run marathons, but Dr. Schnell gives them his blessing to resume low-impact activities like walking, yoga, golf, and biking.
Mary Jo credits her rapid recovery, in part, to the skill of her surgeon. “I have nothing but good words for Dr. Schnell, who gave me back my quality of life — twice,” she says.
Change your life with orthopedic surgery. Learn more at www.rwjbh.org/hamiltonortho.