Buddy system benefits athletes with hip dysplasia

college soccer player kristina who had hip dysplasia The buddy system is great. It helps keep buddies safe, secure and confident. When you’re a college athlete facing two major surgeries (called periacetabular osteotomy or PAO) to correct hip dysplasia in one year, a buddy can be a lifeline.

Until she was 18, Kristina Simonson had been one of those lucky athletes who escaped injury season after season. The Babson College student started playing soccer at 5 and entered college as a two-sport athlete—soccer and lacrosse.

She began experiencing hip pain her freshman year in college. Her trainer suspected it might be a torn labrum, or a rip in the seal that normally cushions the hip joint. He was right … but only partially.

krsitina_s_3Enter the hip experts

Kristina was referred to Young-Jo Kim, MD, director of the Child and Young Adult Hip Preservation Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. Because Babson College has a partnership with Boston Children’s, Kristina knew that the hip program and sports medicine team treat young adults. “Boston Children’s has a great reputation, and I wanted to go there for my care.”

An MRI showed that Kristina had torn the labrum in both hips. But this was only part of the problem. Kristina also had hip dysplasia in both hips. Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip socket is too shallow to make a good fit for the head of the femur (or thigh bone).

Kim cautioned her that if he repaired the labrum without fixing the dysplasia, the labrum would likely tear again. She needed PAO. During the operation, the surgeon rotates the socket into proper position and inserts metal screws to hold it in place.

“We needed to fix the root cause,” Kim says. Kristina steeled herself for the long haul. She needed PAOs in both hips, but because the surgery involves cutting the pelvis bone, and it takes time for the bones to heal, the surgeries had to be spaced out by one year.

Kristina and Kim agreed that she would give up lacrosse and scheduled the first surgery for November 2013—after soccer season. She worked with a physical therapist through the summer to build as much strength as possible for the soccer season.

And as surgery day neared, Boston Children’s hip experts helped her prepare. They provided a patient guide about PAO to help her understand what to expect.

While surgical expertise certainly can help allay pre-operative fears, nothing is quite like connecting with someone who’s successfully recovered.

Enter the buddy

Erin Dawicki, a physician assistant in the Orthopedic Center, connected Kristina with Ally Markowitz — a hip buddy. “PAO is a tough surgery and recovery,” says Ally, a student at University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, Conn. Kim had completed Ally’s PAO in May 2013. “Erin told me I had handled my PAO really well and asked if I would be willing to talk to Kristina because we had similar lifestyles,” recalls Ally.

“I was very nervous before my surgery. I was able to email Ally and ask questions. It helped alleviate my anxiety because she had been through the PAO and was able to return to an active lifestyle. I realized I would be OK,” says Kristina.

Ally’s perspective helped get Kristina through a process that started with the surgery and a five-day hospital stay. But Kristina wasn’t the only one who gained from the buddy system. “It’s wonderful to be able to help make this surgery a little easier for someone else,” says Ally.

kristina_s_2Post-PAO: Back in the game

The soccer player returned to campus a little more than one week after surgery and used a wheelchair to get around for the first month.

By two months post-surgery, she had graduated from a wheelchair to crutches and an elliptical trainer and stationary bike. In April, she started soccer-specific drills to help prepare her for the 2014 season.

The plan paid off. “I was able to play at my pre-surgical level without limitations,” says Kristina.

And as the 2014 soccer season comes to a close, Kristina is ready for the next challenge—her second PAO. “I know what to expect and what a difference the surgery makes. Surgery is scary, but it’s great to think about a future of playing without pain.”