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Bouncing Back Stronger: After Two Hip Replacements, Debra East is Thriving

Bouncing Back Stronger: After Two Hip Replacements, Debra East is Thriving

It was in early summer of 2021 that Debra East, 68, first received a diagnosis for the stubbornly-nagging pain in her right hip: osteoarthritis. Not a woman who was ready to give up her active, engaged life in Lander, Debra took it upon herself to learn about the potential treatments that may lay ahead of her as well as dig into her own strength and fitness head-on.

On the journey, she saw a webinar offered by St. John’s Health — Dr. Drew Lighthart and Orthopedic Program Manager Jamie Jackson, RN, were giving an overview of hip replacements. “When I watched it, I had no sense of the fact that I’d have to have a hip replacement,” recalls Debra. In fact, she would have not one but two of the procedures in the coming years. “Looking back, that webinar was very helpful. It took away some of the mystery.”

Debra worked tirelessly to reduce her pain with steroid shots, dug into “pre-hab” physical therapy with a local trainer, and managed to lose a significant amount of weight: all achievements that she knew would set her up for maximum success. By the spring of 2022, she was in the best shape she’d been in years. “My blood pressure was going down, I was moving out of pre-diabetes, and felt stronger as a candidate,” Debra recalls. But the pain was getting worse. She knew it was time to consider surgery.

When she consulted with her local doctor, he recommended that she explore some regional options for a surgeon, Debra’s doctor felt that she should consider Dr. Lighthart at St. John’s Health (SJH) in Jackson, WY. She immediately leapt at the idea: “That’s the webinar I saw!”

In May of 2022, Debra traveled to Jackson for an in-person consultation with Dr. Lighthart at Teton Orthopedics. He agreed that she was an excellent candidate for surgery, and two weeks later, performed her hip replacement at SJH. “The surgery went very well,” Debra says. “I really appreciated the communicative, thoughtful, caring and professional staff. They really instill confidence and have just the ‘right recipe’ for meeting the patient where they’re at.”

“In my 68 years, I’ve had five hospitalizations. This was hands-down the best experience I’ve had. It was care that met me where I was, and brought me where I needed to be.”

Under the guidance of expert physical therapists at St. John’s Health, and with the generous support of friends, Debra was able to head home soon after her surgery. Her continued dedication to physical therapy and improving her strength helped her return to a lifestyle and activities from which she’d been sidelined for years like hiking and riding her tricycle. “For the first time since the pandemic, I was going to restaurants with friends, I was able to participate in Lander Pride events, and was meaningfully reconnecting to my community,” Debra says.

But then pain began to creep in again. “My right hip had a new feeling - it could do more than it had done. My left hip had been the ‘hero hip’, and it had hit its ceiling,” Debra recalls. When she visited Dr. Lighthart for her one-year post-op follow up in June of 2023, he confirmed her suspicions: the left hip required a replacement as well. Knowing she was in exceptional hands, Debra put the surgery on her calendar for July 19.

Up until the eve of her surgery, Debra worked tirelessly to maximize her own fitness and physical preparation. “I brought the leanest and strongest body I could to this surgery.”

“When I woke up from the surgery, the nurses in post-op were supportive and encouraging. I truly felt wrapped in their attention.”

Again, Debra quickly leapt into action with her physical therapy team and began her recovery in earnest. “I got support from PT to approach individual challenges —such as getting into a taller bed That level of personalized care really set me up for success when I went home.”

Now, Debra looks back with an unshakeable confidence that her hard work combined with Dr. Lighthart’s excellence has helped her return to the lifestyle that brings her the most fulfillment and joy. “I’m further along post-surgery than I was last year for a variety of reasons,” she says, as she continues to work tirelessly in physical therapy and towards her own fitness goals.

“Debra is an example of someone who has really taken charge of her health,” agrees Dr. Lighthart. “She has made a huge commitment to becoming healthier mentally and physically. Her joint replacement surgeries are only one part of her journey to become healthier. She has taken advantage of and fully utilized many aspects of our joint replacement program. I think she got a lot out of the education class and benefited from the support we have around the surgeries themselves — the joint replacement coordinator, PT, OT, case management and more. She has been open and honest with me and the other people on the team and has been very collaborative.”

“I would like patients to realize that we have all of these outstanding resources that other places may not have,” explains Dr. Lighthart.

Debra agrees; both the program resources at St. John’s Health in combination with the staff’s willingness to listen and support patients is critical for recovery success. “Patients sometimes lack the courage to be frank with where you feel limited, but speaking up helps the staff to respond and offer help and support,” she says. “Accurately sharing your circumstances at home helps the team respond to that.”

Thanks to her unwavering dedication to her own healing journey, Debra is looking ahead to jumping back into the active lifestyle she loves. She plans to keep up her fitness journey, and fully expects to encounter plenty of friends while she’s riding her beloved tricycle or exploring the trails of Sinks Canyon.