Our patients’ stories: Helping a teenage athlete stay hip

Jenn Sprung

It was another day at field hockey practice for Jenn Sprung. The 14-year-old from Gloversville, NY was running and playing with her team when a sharp pain through her right leg made her stop.

“I didn’t think anything of it at first,” she says. Like most teen athletes, Jenn was intent on fixing the problem as soon as possible so she could stay in the game. She rested, iced her hip and started practice again a week later.

But the pain got worse. A trip to her pediatrician’s office surprised her with a diagnosis of double trouble: Jenn’s X-rays showed that she had hip dysplasia not just in her right hip, but in her left as well.

Hip dysplasia is a fairly common problem—not caused by participation in athletics—that happens when the hip’s ball and socket don’t join together properly. Typically, the socket is too shallow for the ball part of the joint, and if the issue isn’t taken care of, it can cause arthritis later in life. Females are more likely to get hip dysplasia than males, and though the cause is unknown, the disorder tends to run in families.

Jenn’s doctor referred her to Young-Jo Kim, MD, PhD, director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Child and Adult Hip Preservation Program—a four-hour drive from her home in upstate New York.

Boston Children’s Hospital’s Child and Adult Hip Preservation Program helps put young athletes back in the game

Since her appointment wasn’t for a few weeks, Jenn walked on crutches until she could get to Boston and sat on the sidelines as she watched her field hockey team practice. “I would come home after watching my team practice and just cry,” she says. “My twin brother was playing football, and I kept thinking that he’d never realize how lucky he was to be playing his sport.”

Being a teenager is hard enough, but having to leave a sport, walk on crutches and explain to her peers what was going on added to her stress. “Some people didn’t believe me, because I didn’t have a cast on. They thought I was faking,” Jenn recalls.

In October 2011, the day finally came for her appointment in Boston. She and her parents drove through the early hours of the morning to Boston Children’s satellite location in Waltham.

“I was so nervous and exhausted, but when I got there, the Radiology Department was dressed in Halloween costumes, and I immediately felt safer,” Jenn recounts.

As she met with Kim for her appointment, she felt even more comfortable, despite learning that she would need two peri-acetabular osteotomy (PAO) surgeries. “Dr. Kim treated me like we already knew each other, and made me feel comfortable with the whole thing,” she says. “He told me that a normal hip socket should come together like a ball in a cup, but that mine wasn’t joined that way.”

Experts at Boston Children’s have done more PAO surgeries than any hospital in the country, so Jenn felt relieved.  “We’re fortunate enough to have a lot of experience with PAO surgeries, and do around 100 of them a year,” says Kim. “If we catch the dysplasia early, like we did with Jenn’s, the outcomes are usually excellent, and patients can return to sports after their bones heal.”

Young-Jo Kim , MD, PhD

Jenn’s two surgeries needed to be spaced a few months apart. Her first took place one morning in November 2011. In almost five hours’ time, Kim cut Jenn’s hip socket, rotated it and put it back together with three long screws.

Being at home in New York after that surgery was even harder than Jenn had expected. Since stairs were difficult for her, she slept in a hospital bed on the first floor of her house and used a shower chair to bathe each day. “I missed my friends, missed school and was just feeling sorry for myself,” she says. “But I knew I just had to push through.” When it was finally time to go back to school, Jenn’s friends welcomed her with open arms and were immediately supportive.

Her second surgery in April of 2012 went by faster and more easily than her first. “Everything about it seemed easier since I had done it before,” Jenn says. “I was less nervous, the surgery was quicker and recovery was much better.”

With her surgeries behind her, Jenn, now 16, is able to look back on her challenges and see life with a new perspective. While she’s decided not to re-join field hockey, she’s participating in new clubs and volunteering at a local hospital in her free time.

“Jenn is free to do whatever she wants now, and if she wants to go back to field hockey, she can,” says Kim. “I expect her to be pain-free for a very long time.”

“Going through something like that gives me more drive than ever. I had these surgeries so that I could get out there and enjoy life,” Jenn says. “So that’s what I’m doing.”


Visit Boston Children’s Child and Adult Hip Preservation Program’s website, to learn more about how the program cares for patients with common and complex hip disorders or schedule an appointment with one of our experts.

2 thoughts on “Our patients’ stories: Helping a teenage athlete stay hip

  1. What a great story! Good for her and the professional medical help that she received!:-)

  2. Jenn,
    You are very brave and have a great attitude, I wish you all the best. Thank you for being a wonderful example to other teenagers.

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