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Hip hip hooray! Valley the place for hip replacement

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Hip replacement surgery is not just for Grandma anymore. Because of longer life expectancies and active lifestyles, more younger patients with hip disease are undergoing total hip replacements.

Dr. Tom St. John, 34, of Orthopaedic Associates of Aspen and Glenwood Springs, specializes in hip surgeries.

He uses the Trident Ceramic Acetabular insert, a replacement device approved in February by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The device is made of super-durable, long-lasting titanium and ceramic-on-ceramic materials, and is designed for people expected to live more than 20 years beyond the surgery.



“The only material harder than this type of ceramic is diamond,” said Jay Thomas, sales representative for Stryker Howmedica Osteonics, manufacturer of the device.

The TCA device ushers in a new era for younger hip replacement patients. Before, artificial hips made of plastic and metal could wear out far sooner than a patient’s life span. Replacing an artificial hip was rarely an option, since the pelvic bone can’t withstand a second operation.



Now, because St. John has rare, specialized training performing hip replacements with the TCA device, candidates for this new surgery need only go as far as Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and Aspen Valley Hospital in Aspen to receive the latest in medical technology and care.

“In the Roaring Fork Valley, with the high activity level of the people who live here, we previously didn’t have a surgical solution for younger patients. Now we truly do,” said St. John.

Scott Runyan, who works at the 19th Street Diner in Glenwood Springs, was a prime candidate for TCA surgery. Both of his parents have bad arthritis, and at 40, his genetics were causing his hip joint to disintegrate. His left leg was a quarter-inch shorter than his right.

“My hip was like a toothache,” Runyan said. “The pain was always there. I limped, and I never got to sleep through the night.”

A friend of Runyan’s told him about St. John, and after initial consultations, the doctor performed surgery on his hip April 23, replacing his eroding hip with a state-of-the art ceramic and titanium number.

Wednesday, Runyan said the surgery is “the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m very happy.”

Runyan said he’s now walking without a cane, and he’s had to retrain himself not to limp.

“Dr. St. John evened out my legs, too,” said Runyan. “They’re perfect. I feel very lucky to have been able to have him perform my surgery. I feel like I got the A-Team.”

Runyan is right. St. John did his internship, residency and fellowship directly under the direction of Dr. Richard Rothman, the founder of the Rothman Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

Widely regarded in several national publications as one of the country’s leading orthopedic surgeons, Rothman is the father of modern hip replacement, according to Jay Thomas of Stryker Howmedica.

In fact, Dr. St. John moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2001 partly due to Rothman, who owns a vacation home in Snowmass Village. Rothman referred St. John to Orthopaedic Associates when the partners were looking for a Rothman Fellowship-trained surgeon.

“So when a position opened up in orthopedics, I applied,” St. John said, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., and attended college in Boston, Stony Brook, N.Y., and Philadelphia before moving out west. “I love it here.”

St. John and Thomas are enthusiastic about the new TCA device, and explain it’s an ideal operation for younger patients with congenital hip dysplasia, early arthritis and trauma to the hip.

While another hip replacement procedure called minimally invasive surgery or the two-incision approach is gaining popularity, St. John said he and Rothman consider it controversial.

“At this point, I’m opposed to the two-incision approach,” St. John said. Proponents of the technique claim there’s quicker recovery time and less complications, but he prefers being able to have greater access to the hip through a typical 10-inch incision.

St. John said, in contrast, the Rothman technique he uses has been perfected for years.

“There’s been 35 years of refinement on our technique,” St. John said, who said golfer Jack Nicklaus and football player Bo Jackson have had the surgery.

“Thanks to this procedure, a significant number of younger folks can now ski, golf, play doubles tennis, hike and bike for the rest of their lives.”

Just ask Scott Runyan.

“It’s amazing,” Runyan said of the way he feels following his surgery. “I feel like a new man.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

cclick@postindependent.com


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