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Peak Performance: Hip Replacement for an Avid Climber

Tuesday, August 30, 2016 7:07 AM

Of all the mountains Grace Romanelli has climbed, from Mount Rainier’s majestic peaks to the crests of Mount Kilimanjaro, a small bluff in Kentucky proved to be her biggest triumph. She quickly ascended to the top, then dropped to her knees and wept.

“I was just so relieved emotionally and so insanely happy I could climb again,” Romanelli, of Morton Grove, recalled. “When I got back down to the ground and my hip didn’t hurt, I just thought, ‘Oh my God! This is so great!’”

Romanelli’s jubilant return to mountain climbing came just six weeks after hip replacement surgery at NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute, powered by a comprehensive, integrated team of experts. Surgical and physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists collaborated on Romanelli’s care, which included pre- and postoperative therapy.


“I never, not even for a blink of an eye, thought that I would have to give up climbing,” Romanelli said. “Instead, I went looking for a physician and surgeon who would support me. I interviewed a few different hospitals, and NorthShore’s team was the only one sympathetic to my cause.”

An active baby boomer, Romanelli had been climbing for a decade when mild hip pain caused her some concern. When the pain worsened, a friend suggested NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute because of its renowned expertise in treating sports injuries in professional and amateur athletes of all ages.

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Physician Victoria Brander, MD, initially controlled the osteoarthritis pain with steroid hip injections, physical therapy and pain medication. That approach worked for a time, allowing Romanelli to scale the Tatra Mountains near her childhood home in Poland. But as her expeditions continued, so did the pain.

Ultimately, Dr. Brander and Orthopaedic Surgeon Lalit Puri, MD, MBA, collaborated with NorthShore’s highly trained team of physical therapists to prepare their rock climber for hip replacement surgery. Dr. Puri also serves as Division Head of Adult Reconstruction and Vice Chairman of Clinical Excellence at the Institute.


“Grace is all about being a rock climber,” said Dr. Brander. “That’s why we work with patients individually to customize a solution that works best for them. In this case, we determined surgery was the best option.”

Regaining function and improving strength are rehabilitation goals that NorthShore licensed physical therapists help patients realize pre- and postsurgery. Clinical Manager of Rehab Services Valerie Damlos, PT, OCS, CMP, asked Romanelli to videotape herself climbing, to best analyze her specific movements. For climbing, Romanelli needed to bend her hip to ascend and rotate her leg to secure her footing on the mountainside. Her customized therapy program focused on muscle strengthening, spine alignment and balance exercises.

“I’ve had a number of young, high-performing athletes as patients so we’re comfortable collaborating with them,” noted Dr. Puri, who also holds an academic title at the Pritzker School of Medicine. “Because we all have different needs that fulfill our lives, it’s important that we, as physicians, really listen to our patients. In Grace’s case, I pledged that I would be her biggest advocate.”

Romanelli’s excellent health allowed Dr. Puri to use smaller incisions during the procedure so less tissue was damaged, leading to quicker recovery. He implanted a prosthetic hip with great range of motion and less risk of dislocation.


“You can climb when you’re 20 and when you’re 60,” Romanelli said. “Sure, there will be adjustments to be made, but you can continue climbing.”

And so she will. Romanelli already has scheduled future climbing trips in France and Greece.