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Patient Undergoes Rare, Complex Total Femur Replacement: Orthopedic Surgeons Give Man New Leg

Oct 23, 2008

Contact: Catherine Gianaro
(773) 564-7285

After five hip surgeries, four of which occurred in the last six months, 81-year-old Gene Johnson’s thigh bone couldn’t take it anymore; so he underwent a total femur replacement, which involved swapping out his original thigh bone with a metal one, in addition to getting a new hip and knee. Only about 100 of these procedures are done nationwide each year.

“We gave him a new right leg,” said Henry Finn, M.D., chief of orthopedic surgery at Weiss Memorial Hospital, medical director of the University of Chicago Bone and Joint Replacement Center at Weiss, and professor of surgery at University of Chicago. Finn teamed with fellow orthopedic surgeon Kris Alden, M.D., Ph.D., for the five-hour rare and complex surgery at Weiss on Oct. 8.

“This is a last-resort surgery,” said Alden, who also is clinical assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Chicago. “Everything else failed, so this was the only choice.”

Johnson received his first total hip replacement 10 years ago near his home in the north central Illinois town of Princeton. A year later he underwent revision surgery to fix a loose joint. This past March, Johnson went through a couple more surgeries, one time because of a bone fracture above the knee. Surgeons had tried to fix it with metal plates and screws, which failed a couple months later. Johnson and his family decided to find a surgeon with experience in complex joint revisions. In June, Finn performed a revision surgery and within three months the fracture healed, but Johnson’s aging bone wasn’t strong enough to hold it together long-term; his leg failed as he was getting out of a chair. “I thought a lot about it,” Johnson said referring to the total femur replacement treatment option. “It was what we had to do.”

“We generally don’t like to take out of the body what God gave us and put in something artificial,” Finn explained, “but there’s a point when the bone and soft tissues won’t heal; so the only reasonable option was to remove the entire femur and replace it with metal.” There then is no concern of the brittle bone healing; instantly, the fracture is replaced by metal. Associated with the total femur replacement is a total hip replacement (surgeons used the socket portion of Johnson’s hip from his original surgery) and total knee replacement.

Two weeks after the radical surgery, Johnson sees improvements daily with the help of physical therapists at Weiss’ Joint University, a place focused on the patient experience by providing an environment that emphasizes wellness and maximizes rapid recovery efforts through education, a culture of early mobility, family involvement and group interaction.

“He’s recovering from both a hip and knee replacement, so it will take longer for him to get around than your average total joint replacement patient,” said Heidi Behnke, director of rehabilitation at Weiss. “It’s quite a rehabilitation process; we’re essentially teaching him how to walk again.” Johnson is completing an intensive course of therapy in the hospital’s rehab unit and will receive additional physical therapy at home.

“It’s the toughest rehab I’ve had,” Johnson noted, “but everyday I’m teaching my muscles how to move around the joints, and the therapists are satisfying my concerns.”

The lengthy rehabilitation will be worth it, Johnson said, if he can “get around and be mobile again.” This retired high school football, volleyball and track coach is looking forward again to cheering on his hometown teams, as well as spending time with his family, including his four great-grandchildren.

For more information on total femur replacement or Weiss Memorial Hospital’s Joint University, call (773) 564-5680.