Hank Sokol is living proof that joint replacement can transform one’s life, especially after years of believing other body parts were the source of debilitating pain. And, it has made attainable his “ultimate goal,” which just might have something to do with a prized Corvette.
At age 15, Sokol had a large summer growth spurt. His pediatrician noted that he might eventually need hip replacement surgery. As a young teen, Sokol didn’t think much about the doctor’s comments until years later in 1969 when his number was called in the draft. The army denied Sokol, however, because he failed his physical due to a structural issue with his hip. Again, Sokol didn’t think much about it since he otherwise had no pain or mobility problems. “It kept me from going to Vietnam, but it really was no issue otherwise,” said Sokol.
Fast forward multiple decades, and Sokol began having some back and knee “issues.” “In my van customization business, I worked in the shop a lot so I assumed my pain was because I had strained my back,” said Sokol. “Over time my back bothered me more and more, sometimes seizing up to where I couldn’t move or needed rest. I also started having pain in my leg, but again thought it was the knee, not my hip.”
Sokol lived for years with his back and leg pain, but in the fall of 2017, while at the Austin City Limits concert series, he had another major flare up. “We were walking a lot and my back and leg just completely seized up and I could hardly move. Upon returning home the pain subsided so I went back to work in the shop, but the pain and tightness returned, so I decided to visit a back doctor.”
The back doctor recommended physical therapy to help with what was thought to be spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that causes pain and numbness in the legs. Sokol did therapy for months, but still had pain. Eventually, after more investigation, the back doctor discovered Sokol’s problem wasn’t the back at all; his pain stemmed from a substantial amount of arthritic degeneration in the hip joint. So, the back doctor recommended Sokol see a hip specialist, Dr. Donald Hohman.
“Dr. Hohman discovered arthritis, which was so bad that he recommended immediate hip replacement surgery,” said Sokol. “However, I really wasn’t ready for that so I asked about other options. He said I could try a cortisone injection, and in early January of 2018 I had the injection. It helped for a time, but eventually the improvement dissipated so I knew surgery was the only option.”
Dr. Hohman explained various replacement options, including a newer technique commonly known as “minimally invasive” surgery in which the doctor makes a smaller incision through the front of the leg (anterior approach) rather than the back. The anterior incision eliminates the need to cut and reattach muscles, typically resulting in faster recovery times and less pain. Not all implant patients are candidates for this technique, but Dr. Hohman, a rising star in minimally invasive replacement, thought it would be appropriate in Sokol’s case.
Sokol had his replacement surgery June 13, 2018, and to this day remains astounded by the results. “I thought it would be a long recovery and months before I could move without pain, especially at the point of surgery,” said Sokol. “Well, even in the first few hours after surgery I really had no pain at the incision or with the replacement; maybe some tightness, but little pain. What pain I did have was primarily in my knee, which was “twisted” during surgery to allow the doctor better access to the joint. However, that faded over the next few weeks, especially as I started regular therapy.”
Three days post-surgery, Sokol was walking with just a cane. His rapid recovery continued, to the point that one month after replacement, Dr. Hohman and his therapists believed that the normal 3-4 months of therapy might be reduced. “I take therapy seriously and do it religiously. It is so important to help strengthen all my supporting muscles and get me back to walking normally, but I’ll be ecstatic if I don’t have to keep at it for a full four months.”
Perhaps most hopeful, Sokol’s years of back and leg pain seem to be a thing of the past. And, one day soon, he might just attain his ultimate “goal.” “So far there’s been no recurrence of the back pain I was having, and my knee feels better as well. With more exercise, which will be so much easier now with the new hip and no pain, I might also lose a little weight. I enthusiastically recommend Dr. Hohman, and really wish I had done this earlier because soon enough I’ll be able to get in and out of my Corvette once again, which is a tough task for a big man with a bad hip!”