Erin Chan Ding
March 1, 2011
In his Lake in the Hills living room, with its wide window overlooking traffic on Algonquin Road, Jim Graff moves his arms in a circular motion in a tai chi move called “around the platter.”
His hips are perfectly balanced while he performs the move.
A few minutes later, he walks toward a flight of stairs, ascending and descending them sideways.
What’s remarkable about Graff’s movements is that last year, he could do none of them.
Back then, his right leg measured an inch longer than his left, causing him to walk with a limp. He couldn’t perform his job as a massage therapist without clients noticing him occasionally grimace with pain.
“I can do things now that I couldn’t do when I was 33,” said Graff, who’s 63 and has had arthritic discomfort since his 30s. “So my attitude, my self esteem, my faith and my outlook on life is much younger.”
Hip Surgery Gives Graff New Lease on Life
What changed for Graff was a surgery he had done that’s touted for its novel approach. Friday marks the one-year anniversary of that surgery, which replaced Graff’s left hip and is notable because it was one of the first several performed by Dr. Steven Louis of Hinsdale Orthopaedics using what’s called a direct anterior approach.
Instead of reaching the hip from the side or the back in the traditional way, the direct anterior approach does what its name implies: accesses patients’ hips from the front.
Louis, who is one of just a handful of orthopedic surgeons in the Chicago area performing hip replacements using a direct anterior approach, says the advantages to the direct anterior approach are smaller incisions, less trauma on muscles and tendons and faster recovery times.
Louis said he started using this approach about 18 months ago and has performed about 100 surgeries, including Graff’s. What has popularized the surgery recent years is not the newness of the procedure — it was first performed in France in the 1950s – but the availability of a surgical table that was invented and modified in the last decade.
“The easiest thing for people to understand what the table does is that it’s an assistant that’s really strong and never gets tired,” Louis said.
Called a Hana Table, the device allows the surgeons to manipulate their patients’ legs in ways so they can get access to and operate on their hips from the front.
Road to Recovery
Graff, who had his right hip replaced a decade ago with a traditional hip replacement, said he had such a rough time rehabilitating from the first surgery that he intentionally waited until a less invasive approach that led to quicker recovery time was available before attempting to replace the other.
Graff went to a demonstration that Louis, who performs the surgery at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, was giving and decided the anterior approach would be his solution.
“The only thing that went through my mind,” he said, recalling the demo, “is when you’re sitting in class, and the teacher asks a question. I raised my hand, and I said, ‘Me next!’”
After his first hip surgery using the traditional approach, it took Graff nearly two months to walk without a walker. After the second using the direct anterior approach, it took just one week.
“I think he’s doing great,” said Louis, who said the only challenges he’s encountered with the anterior approach is that it can take a little more surgical time and generally can cause the patient to lose a little more blood.
Louis Impressed With Patients’ Success
Overall, Louis says he’s “ecstatic with the result of this particular surgery. I see patients coming back in two weeks and doing things that make my jaw drop.”
For Graff, whose brown eyes shine with delight behind a pair of silver glasses, the fact that his hips are now made of titanium, stainless steel and plastic is not evident.
What is clear is that he can now tie his shoes and sit cross-legged without pain. What’s more, every day, he passes two medals awarded to him in 1993 and 1994 for finishing the grueling Pikes Peaks Ascent, which requires runners to climb 7,815 feet.
The medals are not only a commemoration but an Graff’s inspiration for one more ambitious goal: Pikes Peak Ascent 2012, with new hips climbing each step.