Health Team

Duke surgeons keep NHL goalie on ice

Posted July 4, 2011 6:05 p.m. EDT

— A procedure developed at Duke University helped extend an NHL goalie's career and could help other young adult males.

Ray Emery was on his way to a stellar season with the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2009-10 season, but they had to go on to the Stanley Cup Finals without him.

"I had a series of different injuries (and) kind of just felt like things were out of whack with my pelvis," Emery said.

An MRI scan revealed a problem in his right hip – avascular necrosis.

"It's a disease where your bone dies from loss of blood supply," said Dr. David Ruch, a Duke orthopedic surgeon.

The disease primarily affects young adult males, and there is no known cause for about 60 percent of the cases, Ruch said.

If the condition is discovered too late, the bone collapses, and total hip replacement is the only surgical option. Ruch said avascular necrosis is difficult to diagnose without an MRI scan, and he said more physicians should suspect the condition when young adult males complain of chronic groin pain, which indicates hip joint problems.

A procedure invented at Duke saved Emery's career. He now is the goaltender for the Anaheim Ducks.

"I wanted to get an operation as soon as I could," he said.

A team of surgeons worked on him for four to six hours, drilling out the dead bone and harvesting bone tissue from the lower leg to create a bone graft that's packed into the cavity. They then connect the area with the femoral circulation.

"Thereby getting new blood flow into that area that was previously dead," Ruch said.

Emery couldn't place weight on the joint for six months, but he eventually made it back to the ice.

"The hip felt fine and the goalie-specific movements. That's all I was looking for," he said.