Janet Sullivan, Hip Replacement Surgery

Janet Sullivan will be first to admit that she put off hip replacement surgery longer than she should have despite arthritis pain so bad that she literally was dragging her right leg when she walked.

"I was scared," said the 57-year-old Riverside resident and artist who had the surgery in July.

Ask her for advice now, however, and she'll make her point emphatically: "Don't even hesitate if you have hip pain and need the surgery. I feel so much better now." Sullivan, who owns "you'll go GAGA," an art and antiques store in Riverside, now walks without a limp.

"Two years ago we couldn't even take an after-dinner walk," said her partner, Mark Toncray, 46. "We went for a two-mile walk around the blueberry field the other evening and I couldn't keep up!"

A native of St. Clair Shores, Sullivan lived and worked in Chicago for three decades before moving to the Lake Michigan community north of Benton Harbor about three years ago.

"Chicago was too crowded, too chaotic," she said. "We wanted a gentler life-style."

It was about the same time that she began having pain in her right groin area. The diagnosis -- incorrect, it turned out -- was a soft-tissue injury.

Physical therapy was prescribed and did little to help and she ended taking so many pain medications that her stomach was often upset.

In January 2006 she was examined by Dr. James Grannell, a Niles orthopedic surgeon, who asked if she had ever had an MRI of the painful area.

She hadn't. He ordered one for her and it showed that the round ball of the top of her right leg that fits into the hip socket was no longer ball-shaped. It was almost a point.

"The bone was so worn away that Dr. Grannell couldn't believe that I waited so long to have something done," she said. "He said it looked like the pain would have been unbelievable. And it was."

Dr. Grannell recommended that the hip replacement surgery be done at Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital in Dowagiac.

"I had some misgivings about the hospital, and I told him," Sullivan said. "He asked why. I said because it's really small. All the other hospitals I had been in were in Chicago and they were big.

"He said, 'It's small, so what?' And I said, can Borgess-Lee handle this?

"And he said, 'Do you think I would operate there if I had any doubt? You'll be just fine. The staff is small and they will personally know who you are.'

"And they did!

"Everybody was always really nice. I didn't have a single bad experience. I never had to sit and wait and wait and wait. People would walk in and introduce themselves and tell me exactly what they were going to do."

Sullivan said Grannell has a reputation as a tough and demanding surgeon, which hospital staff said was in her favor. He requires extensive sterile conditions in the operating room and hospital and even gave Sullivan bleach wipes to use on her hands after she returned home.

"The big issue with hip replacement surgery is infection," she said. "If that big bone gets infected, it's difficult to treat. Dr. Grannell is a very thorough guy and I appreciated that."

After she was discharged, she talked Dr. Grannell into letting her undergo physical therapy in Watervliet instead of three weekly trips to Borgess-Lee, which is a 70-mile round trip.

"Things have gone extremely well," Sullivan said. "The chronic pain is gone. I hesitate to say it's a miracle, but it really is. I do get stiff if I sit too long and it takes a while before the stiffness goes away. The physical therapists tell me that I will get better over the next couple of months, although improvements will begin to fade after six months after surgery.

"I hope by then I'll have less stiffness."

Dr. Grannell said that Sullivan's other hip is "perfect," although since she has osteoarthritis she may have problems with the left hip later in life.

"I'm only 57 years old and the typical hip replacement patient is older," she said. "I'm not overweight and everybody tells me I'm young and in good shape. Dr. Grannell said all those things made me a good candidate for the surgery and that I will heal well."

She said she has a good attitude and is gung-ho about physical therapy.

"The medical bills are significant. I have some insurance, but I told Mark the other day:

"You know what, honey, I'd pay the whole thing myself to feel as good as I do today."