Local News

Duke Surgeon Develops Hip Solution For Younger Patients

Posted November 6, 2003

— Although it typically affects older people, hip problems can plague young adults, athletes and children. In most cases, hip replacement is not an option. So a Duke surgeon has come up with a solution of his own.

Our feet hit the ground an average of 5,000 times each day. Every one of those steps used to painful to Andy Zimmerman.

"It came on rather suddenly and increased rapidly," he said.

Zimmerman had avascular necrosis, a condition where blood flow is cut off to the top area or ball of the hip. The hip bone dies, and over time, the hip becomes weak and painful.

"It's very severe pain. Severe enough they can't walk on it," said Dr. James Urbankiak, a Duke orthopedic surgeon.

Since avascular necrosis occurs mostly in younger adults, hip replacement is not a good option. Most artificial hips wear out after 15 years.

Urbankiak came up with his own solution.

During surgery, he removes the dead hip bone. In its place, he puts the fibula, located in the lower part of the leg, in its place. The final step is attaching blood vessels to the bone to restore blood flow.

"We're trying to bring the hip bone back to life," Urbankiak said.

The procedure works 80 percent of the time. Urbankiak has performed the procedure on more than 2,000 patients, including famous athletes.

"Downhill skiers, basketball players, runners, football players and football officials," he said.

Andy Zimmerman traveled all the way from Baltimore to have the surgery. Although he still has some pain from time to time, he said it was well worth the trip.

"It changed my life. It was a Godsend for me," he said.

Patients have to spend up to six months on crutches while the hip heals. Since the fibula is not a weight-bearing bone, Urbankiak said removing it from the leg and putting it in the hip does not cause problems. He said that area fills in with scar tissue.

Less than a dozen surgeons nationwide perform the procedure. All of them were trained by Urbankiak.


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