Daily Dose – Shirlynn LaChapelle Leaves Pain Rollercoaster Behind, Thanks to Hip and Knee Replacements

The Bahamas were calling, and travel enthusiast Shirlynn LaChapelle of Rock Hill, S.C., couldn’t say no. But she had to use a wheelchair to exit the airplane once there. Her significant other, Vern, was accustomed to being her enthusiastic travel companion, but in the Bahamas, he was her literal crutch. 

Shirlynn’s limited mobility stood in the way of the relaxing time off she had hoped for.

“I thought I could hide how bad of shape I was in, and all the pain,” she says. “But it was there that I realized how much of life I hadn’t been fully living, and I knew that I had to do something. I wanted to be able to enjoy traveling again.”

It had been 10 years since a torn meniscus — a common knee injury — landed Shirlynn in the operating room. She doesn’t know what caused the injury; one day she simply got out of bed and was unable to walk. But the pain in her left knee never completely disappeared.

When she walked into Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute a decade later, determined to find a way to get her quality of life back, a lower body scan to fully assess the extent of her knee pain revealed unexpected news.

“The doctor said that my hips were worse off than my knee,” Shirlynn says.

The scan showed the cartilage in her hips was so worn away that bone spurs had formed because of bone-on-bone contact. She urgently needed a total hip replacement of both hips, which meant removal of the damaged bone and cartilage and implantation of prosthetic components.

She also would need knee replacement surgery. Shirlynn was in tears.

“The whole ballgame changed when I heard I would need both my hips and knee done,” she says.

Enter orthopedic surgeon Dr. Matthew Duffin, who specializes in hip and knee replacement surgery. Shirlynn met with him that same day. 

“Dr. Duffin told me I was going to be fine — that he did 400 to 500 hip and knee replacements a year,” Shirlynn says. “That made me feel at ease. I remember having an immediate trust in him.”

Duffin is fellowship-trained in anterior hip replacement. With this technique, which he used on Shirlynn, a small incision is made at the front of the hip, which avoids damaging the surrounding muscle and tendons and often leads to a quicker recovery.

He replaced Shirlynn’s first hip in January 2023, her second hip in May 2023 and less than a year later, in March 2024, he replaced her left knee.

All three procedures were outpatient surgeries, with Shirlynn back home the same day.

What To Expect

Duffin performed a primary total hip replacement on Shirlynn, which means he cut away and replaced the ball and socket joint of her hip with artificial parts.

Her knee replacement surgery also entailed replacing worn-out knee joints to help the knee work better without stiffness and pain.

Although joint replacement surgery is largely successful, complications can arise. Surgeons evaluate patients before surgery, paying attention to potential risk factors for post-surgical complications. Obesity is one of those risk factors — it has been shown to increase the risk of infection by as much as 40%, Duffin says. 

He discusses this with patients who are overweight and works with them to establish a goal weight prior to surgery, refers them to weight loss resources and diet and nutrition services through Atrium Health, provides information about medications that can help, and more. 

“If patients can commit to losing a bit of weight and they do not have other risk factors, I try not to deny them a hip or knee replacement,” Duffin says. “There is counter research showing that people who are denied access because of weight experience worse outcomes without surgery, including depression. More research is needed, but we want to be sure we are caring for everyone effectively and doing as much as we can to help them get their life back.”

Duffin credits Shirlynn’s positive attitude in large part for her quick recovery.

“The people who do the best are those who are motivated and have the mindset that they’re going to get better,” he says.

Shirlynn appreciated that Duffin was patient and took the time to discuss risk factors, share what to expect from surgery, listen and answer her questions. That extra time, care and attention has stuck with her; she has referred friends who may need joint replacement surgery to Duffin.

“I tell everyone that he will make you feel comfortable, and that he truly cares about his patients,” she says. “And most importantly, he put me back together and helped me feel like me again. He gave me my life back, and that means the world to me.”

Patient Satisfaction Is High

Hip replacement surgery garners among the highest scores in national patient satisfaction surveys, Duffin says. It also scores high at Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute.

“We commonly hear people say that from the moment they first arrived here, they felt supported through the entire process and that someone was always pointing them in the right direction,” he says.

He attributes this positive feedback to the expert multidisciplinary team that is part of the Atrium Health system.

“It’s easier to get people through the treatment pipeline because we are a part of Atrium Health, and there is a streamlined system that often begins when a primary care physician refers their patient to us,” Duffin says. “Then patients have seamless access to nutrition resources, physical therapy and anything else they might need in preparation for surgery or after. Our patients can feel that integration, and they react well to it.”

Shirlynn noticed the streamlined team approach.

“Everyone made me feel calm and cared for, from Dr. Duffin to the nurses to the reception staff, the schedulers and the billing team,” Shirlynn says. “I got the red-carpet treatment.” 

More Replacements; Improved Technology

Duffin performs about 10 hip and knee replacements each week, and he continues to see more patients who need them. That’s because, he says, of the aging population and the obesity epidemic.

The Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute also is on the leading-edge of technological advances in joint replacement. 

It offers minimally invasive robotic navigation options for knee replacements, in which a robotic arm assists the surgeon with positioning of the implant for more precise alignment. 

Duffin says he finds the technique most useful for patients with complex deformities, a previous fracture or those who have rods, plates or screws helping connect their bones.   Robotic navigation technology also exists for hips, but Duffin notes that the technology—while exciting—is still very new and the full benefits are yet to be determined. 

Up and Moving Post-surgery

Duffin tells patients that the easy part is having the joint replacement surgery; the more challenging part is the recovery and therapy, which take equal parts rest and dedication to the prescribed exercises and physical therapy.

Rehabilitation after a joint replacement surgery begins right away, with patients walking with assistance, and once home, with exercises and activities that help reduce swelling and build strength. Several weeks later, patients begin outpatient physical therapy and typically continue several times a week for up to three months. 

Duffin says most patients can expect a complete recovery from a hip or knee replacement within about three months, depending on age, overall health, level of physical fitness and other factors. 

“Hips are a little more forgiving and easier to recover from,” he says. “I tell patients they will feel like a new person six weeks after hip replacement and that the pain they came in with will be 90% gone.

“Knee replacement patients will feel better at six weeks and like a new person after three months, able to get back to the activities they enjoy.”

A Life Back Together

Duffin says he chose joint replacements as a specialty because he wanted to help give people their quality of life back — whether that’s travel, running marathons, gardening or just living without pain.

“And it feels good to know that’s what we’ve been able to do for Shirlynn,” he says.

Since her surgeries, Shirlynn has been taking Pilates classes nearly every day. She navigates steps with confidence. And, of course, she travels with ease: Savannah, Ga., Gatlinburg, Tenn., Chicago and Springfield, Ill.

Next up, she has her sights set on Aruba — with Vern, and without a crutch, cane, walker or wheelchair.

“I’m the bionic woman with all my new parts,” Shirlynn says. “Thanks to Dr. Duffin, I am walking pain-free and assistance-free. No more leaning on the cart to walk around the grocery store. No more avoiding stairs.

“I’m finally off the pain rollercoaster I was on for 10 years, and it feels great.”

Learn more about expert hip and knee replacements at Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute

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