Sam Whiting Sunday, July 30, 2006
Arthritis has eaten away all the cartilage on Frank Stonich’s left hip, so he was pleased to hear he’d be the first person in California to receive the ball-and-socket being introduced by Dr. Robert Gilbert of California Pacific Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.
The device, called the Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System, (BHR) is less invasive than total hip replacement because it saves the knob at the top of the thigh bone. Instead of being sawed off, the head of the femur is shaved to fit under a shiny hat that looks like a mushroom. Approved by the FDA on May 10, resurfacing has been shown to have a faster recovery and leave a greater range of motion than replacement, “Wow. It’s kind of neat and kind of scary at the same time,” Stonich, 58, was saying an hour or two before being wheeled into surgery on the third floor of the California Street Campus of California Pacific Medical Center. This being the last day he could complain about his old hip, he didn’t mind piling it on. “I can’t sit or walk for any kind of length. I can’t go upstairs, can’t do anything,” he says. “It’s messing up my spine. Its messing up my knee and it’s shortened my leg.”
While Stonich is in getting prepped, Gilbert, 65, explains that resurfacing was common in the early 1980s, involving a ball on the femur and a cup in the socket attached to the pelvis. Back then the socket was plastic, and metal-on-plastic either didn’t work or wore out. Gilbert did 29 of these before abandoning the procedure.
It took another 20 years for him to return to resurfacing. What convinced him was the highly polished Cobalt Chrome. “Now that we have metal-on-metal articulations we can go back to it,” Gilbert says, “because metal-on-metal works.”
As proof, he cites 60,000 BHR surgeries done since 1997, when it was perfected by its inventor Derek McMinn, operating in Birmingham, England. McMinn has done 3,000 himself, and Gilbert went over to Birmingham to train with McMinn last March.
They call orthopedic surgery “human carpentry,” and for his first BHR Gilbert has brought along some muscle. First there is his partner in surgery, Dr. Peter Callander, 41. Next to him is Dr. Marc Thomas, an Australian rugby player and surgeon, who has gone over to the other side and now represents Smith & Nephew Orthopaedics, manufacturers of the BHR, based in Memphis.
“It’s the premiere device in hips, no doubt,” says Thomas, who has been in on 1,000 of these operations, though in British-style understatement, says, “I’ve done a few.” Backing up Thomas is Matt Bouza, who played eight years in the NFL and is Northern California Sales Director for Smith & Nephew.