OPINION: Going back to 1995.
Many years ago, 1995 to be exact, I had hip surgery. This was also the year I met Dr. Albert T. Gilpin Jr., MD, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at McLeod Pediatric Orthopaedics in Florence, SC.
After my grandma noticed I was walking funny, our family doctor at the time, Dr. Michael Bernardo, referred us to Dr. Gilpin. He determined not only was my hip dislocated (developmental dysplasia of the hip), but the socket was vertical and round, not horizontal. Basically, the ball and the hip were against the side of my pelvis. I went into surgery for what is known as Salter Osteotomy, named after Dr. Robert Salter of Toronto, Canada.
Essentially, Dr. Gilpin opened my joint, cleaned out fatty tissue from the hip and rebuilt ligaments around the ball of the hip. To do that, he made an incision on the side of my leg. He shortened up my leg with a set of plates and screws, then put the ball back into the socket. Like I mentioned, the socket was vertical instead of horizontal so he made an incision on the top of my pelvis where he opened the pelvis, tilted the socket, rebuilt it and instead of being vertical was now horizontal and he put a pin in my hip. About a month later, the plate he put in wasn’t holding like he wanted - it was actually bent and when it was x-rayed made my hip look crooked. He went back in and put in a larger (and thicker) plate that would help hold the bone better. During this I had to be taken out of my body cast for them to put in the new plate. About 6-12 months later, he went in again and took the plates and screws out of my leg and took the pin out of my pelvis.
The surgery lasted altogether around 5-6 hours. For the next three months, I wore a body cast that went from my waist, to the ends of my feet with a bar going across the middle. I have no recollection of it, but as I talked to Dr. Gilpin, he remembered it like it was yesterday what it was like when I came out of the cast - my feet, legs and hips, especially the left hip, were stiff. He said he imagined I was grumpy afterwards since I was only around 18-20 months old at the time, didn’t understand what was going on and couldn’t really move or walk. I had to wear a brace for a while and I’m sure I had to do some form of physical therapy afterwards. And if you thought the brace or even the body cast limited my mobility, you’re wrong. I used the coffee table or walls to pull myself up and get around the house. I would even army crawl to get where I wanted to go.
I have some memories of the surgery, but most of it’s a blur. I remember watching a lot of wrestling in the hospital. My favorites were Lex Luger and Sting. I remember lying on the living room floor when it was time to have my bandages changed. It was pretty painful mostly because the tape used to hold the bandages was practically super glued to my skin. I remember all of the appointments I went to (in both Columbia and Florence). I’ve been to so many that I can tell you exactly how the appointment is going to go – from sitting in the waiting room, having my hips x-rayed and having BOTH of my legs/hips pushed, pulled, bent, twisted and stretched in every direction imaginable.
Years have passed and I haven’t had one problem with my hip since. Thanks to Dr. Gilpin, I was able to run, play and just be a kid. Even as an adult I’m able to run around with my nephew or go to the tennis courts with my sister and not have any issues. Had I not had the surgery, I imagine it would be really difficult for me to do all of these things. Dr. Gilpin told me that I would’ve had substantial problems, would probably need a cane to walk as I got older and that something as simple as running would be really difficult.
Nobody likes going to the doctor, but Dr. Gilpin is an exception. I wish all doctors were as compassionate and amazing as him. In his own words, he said he’s “just a simple guy who wants to help children.” He’s being humble, but he is more than just a simple guy who wants to help children. I’m just lucky enough to be one of the many children he has helped. I don’t think I’d trust anybody other than him to take care of my hips or any of my bones, really. The last time I saw Dr. Gilpin was in 2012 after I graduated high school, but as my mom said, he probably wouldn’t see me as a patient anymore since he’s a pediatric doctor and I’m 27-years-old – not exactly in the pediatric category. I can confirm from my call with Dr. Gilpin that I can in fact still come see him. After all, I was one of the first children he performed this type of surgery on. And over the years, he’s used my x-rays to educate tons of medical students in SC about dislocated hips and uses them during speaking engagements.
I don’t think I could ever thank him enough for fixing my hip and preventing me from having major hip/joint problems as an adult. When I look at my hip I see a 6-6 ½ inch scar and a slightly less noticeable second scar on my pelvis. This scar is part of me. I’m so used to it being there, almost like an accessory you can never take off. It isn’t something I’m embarrassed or ashamed about and I have no problem with wearing shorts or being around friends in a bathing suit. If someone were to ask me about it, I would be more than happy to tell them. I think it’s a pretty unique story.
I’d like to give a special thanks to Dr. Gilpin for taking the time to help me understand my surgery better for this column. All the medical mumbo-jumbo you just read is all him. I probably wouldn’t have written this without including him in some way, shape or form since he plays such a big role in the story. And to the staff at McLeod who made this phone call happen, thank you. I could’ve talked to Dr. Gilpin for hours, but I know he has other patients like me that need to be taken care of. And again, thank you Dr. Gilpin for fixing me up and becoming such an important part of my life. You are truly the best doctor ever (at least in my opinion).
And in the future, if you do any other presentations or speaking engagements on dislocated hips, I will be more than willing to be part of the presentation.
Kelly Duncan is an award-winning reporter and graphic designer for The Clinton Chronicle. Reach her at 864-833-1900.