Emily’s Story

Hip dysplasia has been a part of my life since birth. At birth, in the late 80s, I was diagnosed with “clicky hips.” But due to other health issues, they were not the main priority at the time.  I grew up in a very small town in southern Michigan, and access to specialists required at least a two-hour drive. At about 6 months old, I began traction for 3 weeks in order to prepare for surgery. I then underwent reduction surgery at U of M hospital. From there I was in a spica cast for the next 3 months and then onto a brace. Obviously, I was too young to remember any of this. From what I have heard, I did not let the cast slow me down at all. I learned to crawl and even to stand in the cast! This may have led to one ER visit when I wiggled too far in the cast and got my foot stuck, my poor parents.

Emily in her hip traction unit prior to hip surgery
Emily in her body cast following hip surgery

I visited U of M every year from then on to monitor my hips. I loved these visits and loved to show off to all the student doctors that I could do the splits. At age 12, the specialist at U of M had decided that my hip dysplasia was fixed, and I no longer needed to come see them. Sounds great!

For a couple years, I had no problems. I was a normal pre-teen always active riding bikes, playing volleyball and normal kid things. When I began high school, I joined the cross-country team and was actually pretty good at it.

Then everything changed. I began having terrible pain in my hips and was no longer able to run. I did a year of physical therapy, had to stop running and went back to the specialist at U of M. I was told there was nothing that could be done for me until I was old enough for a hip replacement much later in life and was again dismissed from their care.

For the next 10 years, I went through life trying to be as normal as possible. I honestly did not realize that everyone did not have daily hip or back pain. After school I worked as a server while in college, walking many miles a day.

At about age 25 I began having many days where I could barely walk not necessarily from pain but I would stand up and my hip would give out. The bad days started to outnumber the good days. Somedays my husband would have to carry me down the stairs in the morning. I was lucky to have a supportive employer and co-workers but ultimately had to take a leave of absence from my job because I could no longer keep up.

I was searching for a specialist who could help me. I would go into appointments saying “Hi I am Emily and I do NOT want pain meds” because that is what everyone assumed until they looked at my x-rays. One even told me that meds were my only option and to “crush them up and snort them. I don’t care”.

I am very thankful for those terrible experiences though because they led me to the right doctor. Dr. Zaltz is a well-known pediatric orthopedic surgeon in the Metro-Detroit area specializing in hip dysplasia. Dr. Zaltz offered a PAO something I knew nothing about at the time. The surgery and recovery sounded very intense and intimidating but if it was going to give me a more normal life, I was ready to try anything. A few months later, at age 27, I had my RPAO and arthroplasty. My leg felt fake for the first couple days. That was such a strange sensation. Luckily it did not last long. I had an easy recovery, not needing any pain meds, and then went on to have my LPAO about 10 months after the right.

For me, the PAO has been the best thing that have ever happened in my life. I still have arthritis in my hips and do have bad days, but now the good outweigh the bad. Through this I have become a better advocate for myself. I’ve learned to fight for what feels right for me and my body. I learned how tough I am, and that I can handle hard things and come out better for it.  I also am now back in school to become a Physical Therapist Assistant because I found so much value in physical therapy and want to help others with their journey.

There is hope in hip dysplasia. It does not have to define your life.