Adventure-Lover Says Yes to Knee, Spine and Shoulder Surgery at HSS To Live Life to the Fullest
Over the years, Diane Hitchcock has kept in touch with Dr. Geoffrey Westrich, the orthopedic surgeon who performed her knee replacement surgery in 2009. She recently sent him the latest photo of herself rock-climbing, a sport she resumed five months after her surgery and continues to enjoy today at age 66. “It’s gratifying to see that patients are happy and continue to do well for years after surgery,” says Dr. Westrich, research director in the Adult Reconstruction and Joint Replacement Service at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City.
“I have always been a very active, outdoorsy nature lover, enjoying activities such as mountain climbing, biking, kayaking and rock-climbing all around the world with my family, as well as ballet dancing,” Ms. Hitchcock wrote on “Back in the Game,” the HSS patient blog. “By 2009 I was in constant pain and barely able to walk, much less dance or climb. Within a month of my total knee replacement I was back in the ballet studio doing my barre exercises and I climbed Mt Katahdin in Maine, crossing the ‘Knife’s Edge’ 11 months later. Dr. Westrich truly gave me back my life! With my new knee I was able to take a rock-climbing trip to Thailand in 2014 to celebrate our children’s’ PhDs! What fun!”
Over the years, Ms. Hitchcock has enjoyed numerous active vacations with her family. She has visited Zimbabwe, Botswana, Borneo and other exotic locales. In addition to climbing, she continues to go hiking, bicycling and has taken up snorkeling. She recently returned from an adventure vacation in New Zealand with her husband and daughter, which included mountain climbing and kayaking.
Ms. Hitchcock is among a growing number of baby boomers who refuse to slow down, despite joints worn out by years of activity, an injury or the passage of time. “I’m seeing more people in their 40’s and 50’s who refuse to be sedentary and, like Diane, will do what it takes to enjoy their active lives,” Dr. Westrich says. “Over the past few years, advances in joint implant design and surgical technique provide even more options for younger patients.” Robotic-assisted surgery and a newer cementless implant could lead to a longer-lasting knee replacement, he says.
Along with Dr. Westrich, Ms. Hitchcock credits two other highly specialized orthopedic surgeons at HSS with helping her maintain her active lifestyle. In addition to her knee replacement at age 56, she had a spinal fusion with Dr. Federico Girardi in 2017 and shoulder replacement surgery with Dr. Lawrence Gulotta in 2018.
She says each surgery has helped her enjoy life again. “Never once did any of my doctors at HSS express the notion that these goals were too extreme for someone my age,” she explains. Major surgery is never a walk in the park, but Ms. Hitchcock didn’t hesitate. She took each surgery and recovery very seriously, taking time off from work and vigorously adhering to her physical therapy regime after each procedure. She speaks very highly of all three of her HSS physicians, and says she had excellent outcomes after surgery.
Her doctors applaud the motivation of Diane and others who wish to enjoy the physical and psychological benefits of exercise at every age. “Why give up years of an active lifestyle,” Dr. Westrich says, “when newer options are available to allow patients with arthritis or another orthopedic condition to live life to the fullest?”
HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. At its core is Hospital for Special Surgery, nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics (for the 13th consecutive year), No. 3 in rheumatology by U.S. News & World Report (2022-2023), and the best pediatric orthopedic hospital in NY, NJ and CT by U.S. News & World Report “Best Children’s Hospitals” list (2022-2023). In a survey of medical professionals in more than 20 countries by Newsweek, HSS is ranked world #1 in orthopedics for a third consecutive year (2023). Founded in 1863, the Hospital has the lowest complication and readmission rates in the nation for orthopedics, and among the lowest infection rates. HSS was the first in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center five consecutive times. An affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS has a main campus in New York City and facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and in the Long Island and Westchester County regions of New York State, as well as in Florida. In addition to patient care, HSS leads the field in research, innovation and education. The HSS Research Institute comprises 20 laboratories and 300 staff members focused on leading the advancement of musculoskeletal health through prevention of degeneration, tissue repair and tissue regeneration. The HSS Innovation Institute works to realize the potential of new drugs, therapeutics and devices. The HSS Education Institute is a trusted leader in advancing musculoskeletal knowledge and research for physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, academic trainees, and consumers in more than 145 countries. The institution is collaborating with medical centers and other organizations to advance the quality and value of musculoskeletal care and to make world-class HSS care more widely accessible nationally and internationally. www.hss.edu.