Getting Back to What Matters Most: One Patient’s Hip Replacement Story

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mother lifts child in air with legs while laying on grass

You know that feeling of walking on rocky asphalt without shoes? Sort of a sharp, crunchy sensation? That’s exactly how Nicole Brien described the pain she was feeling, except this pain was deep in her left hip, and it was preventing her from doing even routine daily tasks. Loading the dishwasher, carrying a basket of laundry up the stairs, even getting into her car—they all forced her to bend or twist in odd ways just to try and avoid the pain. Worst of all, though, were the things she was unable to do with her two children.

Although just 41, Brien needed a hip replacement due to a congenital problem that had resulted in very early end-stage arthritis, which meant her hip and pelvic socket were grinding bone-on-bone.

“It was hard to push the kids in the stroller,” says Brien, an Alpharetta resident and mother of an 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. “I was having issues even sitting on the floor with them with my legs crossed.”

Given that she had two small children, worked as a nurse and was married to a husband who traveled for work, Brien wanted a facility that would help her get back on her feet quickly. As a post-op nurse at Emory Johns Creek Hospital, she knew just where to go: Emory University Orthopaedics and Spine Hospital.

“In the Emory Healthcare system, they are the mecca,” says Brien. “All they do is orthopedics. They see every scenario that would have to do with a hip surgery or a knee surgery or any type of orthopedic surgery.”

Brien’s age made a positive outcome even more critical, says her surgeon, Dr. George Guild III.

“She’s a mother who works as a nurse and has the bulk of her life ahead of her. She has to be able to care for others and do her job,” Dr. Guild says. “To be incapacitated at her age would be devastating. She had a choice and came to Emory, not just because of the facility, but because of what we’re doing here. She’s trusting her livelihood and mobility to us and knows our outcomes are going to be better.”

A Focus on Orthopedics

From the nurses to the surgeons and everyone in between, Emory University Orthopaedics and Spine Hospital specializes solely in illnesses or injuries of the bones, muscles, tendons and related nerves.

“The nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, surgical technicians, social workers, anesthesia—everyone from top to bottom, all they do is specialized orthopedic care, predominantly total joints and spine,” says Dr. Guild, who joined Emory in 2016. “And we are the only hospital in the region that can offer that.”

In 2021, the Orthopaedics and Spine Hospital will be complemented by another facility, the Emory Musculoskeletal Institute, a 180,000 square-foot building in Brookhaven. The “MSK” Institute will be a comprehensive patient and family-centered facility providing orthopedics and spine care, physical therapy, imaging and ambulatory surgery, alongside clinical and research support space.

“We are able to provide care to all patients with musculoskeletal disorders, whatever that may be. This can range from pediatric conditions to musculoskeletal tumors,” Dr. Guild says. “Patients come to Emory for the most advanced care and cutting-edge techniques that is only possible with a highly specialized team. We have a new MSK building with state-of-the-art operating rooms, office, and biomechanical laboratory where the field of orthopedics gets advanced.”

Specialized orthopedic and musculoskeletal care means lower rates of complications, minimal reliance on pain medication, and modern surgical techniques like the less invasive procedure performed on Brien, whose hip was replaced via an anterior route that involved going in between her muscles rather than the more disruptive posterior route through the gluteus maximus. For Brien, that meant being able to go home the same day as her surgery, something about half of Emory hip replacement patients are able to do.

“Nicole had significant difficulty walking without pain, which affected her daily life as a nurse and being able to play with her children, something that we often take for granted,” Dr. Guild says. “Her quality of life at a young age was gone, and now she’s got that back.”

Enjoying ‘A Normal Life’

Brien underwent surgery in January and followed the procedure with three weeks of physical therapy, gradually regaining her range of motion and the ability to be active once again. Now she can go out for a walk and take aerobics or Pilates classes. Most importantly, she can envision a vigorous life with her husband and two children.

“Just thinking ahead with the kids, I’ve never really been able to go ice skating with them during the holidays,” she says. “Or now that they’re older, if we go on a family trip and we go zip lining or whatever, I can do that. Horseback riding, things like that. Simple, fun activities that before I wasn’t really able to do, and now I can.”

And that rocky road feeling in her left hip? Long gone, thanks to the dedicated professionals at Emory’s dedicated orthopedics facility.

“I think one of the toughest things a parent can say is that their children want to interact with them, be active with them, and they can’t do that,” Dr. Guild says. “She’s able to do the things she couldn’t really do before, like just walking without pain, performing her job as a nurse, getting back to helping other people. She is back to normal, and the sky is the limit for Nicole.”

About Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center

Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center offers a full range of services to diagnose, treat and repair bones, joints and connective tissue, like muscles and tendons. Our team puts your health and well-being first. Part of our commitment to patients is making sure you receive the care you need, when you need it.

Your team at Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center is now offering telehealth visits, meaning our health care professionals use videoconferencing to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients using devices like your mobile phone or computer. Hear from one patient how it works.