Tag Archives: Dr. Bellino Stanford

A New Chapter

Its days like today that I really miss my dad.  (He passed away in 2004 from a 3  week battle of liver & pancreatic cancer). Today as I headed west on Woodside Road towards Stanford Medical Center for my nine-month post op, I approach Alameda de las Pulgas Road. Suddenly I time-warped to another time, another life.  “Do you know what ‘Alameda de las Pulgas’ means?” my father asks my sister and me. How would we know? We were five and nine years old, respectively.  Before we could even squeak a noise from our tiny mouths, he answers his own question in a booming voice “THE LAND OF THE FLEAS! HAR HAR HAR HAR!”   Only those that knew my father will appreciate  this.

After waiting a while to see Dr. Bellino, he finally came into the exam room.  He told me I am “pretty much healed” and he is confident that the gaps near the ischium (aka “butt bone”) will heal by the next time I see him in the Spring.


But this post-op visit was so much more than wondering what my x-ray would show in terms of bone growth.  I was anxious, like a kid on Christmas morning, to tell my surgeon about the ultimate PAO win: being physically capable to save someone’s life, which occurred two weeks ago.  And to tell him about my labor of love, thePAOproject.com. And last but not least, to give him the thank you present I made him, a photo book of all my “firsts” post PAO: first bike ride, first hike, first rafting, etc.  He read the whole thing and was truly touched. At the end of the appointment, I reached out to shake his hand and  he opened his arms to give me a hug, which meant a lot to me.

As I headed back towards Highway 280 (a much prettier drive than 101, so I take the scenic route), I saw a sign that said “Emerald Hills.”  My dad lived in Emerald Hills, an upscale neighborhood in Redwood City.  My heart ached to be able to share with him my successes.  I have been through SO MUCH in the past two years: the dust is finally settling and I am emerging from the ashes.  I am a better version of me.  Life after PAO: a new chapter begins.

The “Why?” Answered

Do you ever wonder “Why me?”  Whether that be with a loss of job, a breakup, or in my case, being diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia and the need for two PAO surgeries, its easy to ask that question.  Often we have to trust in not knowing the answer to the why and move forward the best we can.

Throughout my life when faced with adversity (and I have had my share), my mind has gone to the dark side, and I wondered what my purpose in life was or would anyone notice or care if I was no longer on this planet.  Certainly last year recovering from my two PAO surgeries I struggled to stay positive.  I am stubborn as hell and fiercely competitive, which I think were the catalysts for my healing.  However, I often felt lonely and depressed, laying in bed for an average of 20 hours a day with a broken pelvis, eagerly waiting for a visitor friend to bring me a meal, which was the highlight of my day.

And then, sometimes, the Universe can deliver an answer to why:

What if that answer is: “You are a better, stronger person now?”

Or, “You will never take walking, showering,  or doing anything pain free for granted again?”

Or, “You can help and inspire others with your story?”

Or, “You have fixed hips which enabled you to save a person’s life?”

Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Next Friday is my 9 month post op appointment (right PAO 12/16/15) with Dr. Bellino at Stanford, and I am eager to tell him the story (short version) of the ultimate gift: that thanks to him, I have fixed hips, which enabled me to run and maneuver and squat to assist in a medical emergency (name and gender withheld for privacy):

Evergreen is a small town nestled in the Rocky Mountains just west of Denver but at an elevation of 8000 feet. Last weekend was the Evergreen Fine Arts Festival, an art show  ranked as one of the top 50 art shows in the country.  Needless to say I was thrilled  to be upgraded from the wait list to being a vendor.

Sunday morning was crisp and clear, with a hint of fall in the air.  I saw 2 deer and an elk as I drove up the canyon from Morrison to Evergreen.  Once I parked my car in the artist lot, which was about 1/2 mile away from the venue, I took a deep breath of the cool air and looked at a fellow artist, who was getting on a bike to ride from the artist parking lot to the venue, which was 1/2 mile away.  I decided to walk and not take the shuttle; with a walk I could enjoy the morning and get a little exercise before “parking it” at my booth for the next 8 hours.  As I was walking up, I noticed the bike was on the ground and a person who was not the cyclist was on the phone. I immediately went into rescue mode (I have been trained in First Aid and CPR for over 20 years) and sprinted across the street (of course I looked for oncoming cars!).  The person was on the ground unconscious, and as I gathered what little info I could from the person who was on the phone with 911, I proceeded to scuttle down the ditch and assess the situation.  Once I determined there was a pulse, I determined the person was not visibly breathing (“look, listen, and feel”).  I opened the mouth with my hand by opening the jaw, keeping the person still and a big gasp of air occurred.  I kept the mouth open and with the help of two other Good Samaritans, whom I instructed to keep the person still until the paramedics arrived.

The story has a happy ending, this person is alive and doing OK.  I had a very heartfelt conversation with the person’s spouse, and the one time that I got choked up with tears on the phone was when I explained that if it wasn’t for me having fixed hips and being able to sprint and then go into a deep squat and hold that position for minutes, I may not have been as capable to help.  At that moment, I understood the “WHY”.   This is why: we are all connected.  There are no accidents.  I feel so blessed to have had an amazing surgeon and his staff, as well as my Physical Therapist, to empower me to be a new, better version of me; a pain-free version of me who can give back!   Before my PAO’s I couldn’t walk without intense pain, let alone even run or even think about scuttling on uneven ground. And forget about squatting.

So if you find yourself wondering “WHY ME?” know that the answer may be waiting for you…

Stoked: 12 Weeks Post Op

How time flies (well, time flies once cleared to bear weight on the operated leg and being able to drive again)!  I am currently in the Bay Area for my 12 week post-op appointment for my right side and my 1 year follow-up on my left side.  I met with Dr. Bellino yesterday, my amazing surgeon at Stanford. Below are pictures from 3 weeks post op (top) and 12.5 weeks post op (bottom):

xray rpao
3 weeks post op RPAO
12.5 weeks post op RPAO
12.5 weeks post op RPAO

Good news!  He said my bone growth (see the cloudy/fuzzy spots around the cuts?  That is bone growth) looks “really good” and he was impressed how well I am walking unassisted.  I am cleared to ease back into all activities as long as I let pain be my guide (basically, if there is pain, don’t do it).  I know I won’t be busting out a 30 mile bike ride or 3 mile run anytime soon, but I know I can start working up to that level.  Also, things are going so well, he doesn’t want to see me in 3 months, but in 6 months!

So his good news has me stoked on life.  It has been months, even years that I have been this happy.  To be pain free, walking normally, knowing that I never have to have another PAO surgery again.  Its cliche, but I really have learned not to take anything for granted. I love walking without pain, I love sitting on a toilet seat with ease, I love sleeping on my side, I love being able to put on my socks by myself, I love to drive, I love to bend over to pick up my cat, and I love being able to start working again.

I am forever grateful for the invention of PAO surgery and to Dr. Bellino for giving me my life back.  I am also grateful for the team at Stanford Hospital and all my support crew who took care of me with these past two surgeries.  The decision to undergo this brutal, bone sawing elective surgery to preserve my hips was the best decision I ever made.

The Big Day

April 8, 2014, 7:00 a.m.  With sponge side foaming from an orange liquid, I began my microbial scrub in the shower. Each little area over my entire body, I began self talk: “This is it. You got this. You will heal quickly.”  At this point, everything seemed so real, and unreal.  I was in a state of unusual calm and petrifying terror of being cut open and having my pelvis sawed into pieces. I was caught in a state of opposing forces that cannot easily be explained. And somehow, I was suspended in neutral.

I got to the hospital on time and quickly checked in with my pre-op nurse, Judy. An older woman with an easy nature, she helped put me at ease with her down-to-earth personality and answering all my last minute questions. She reassured me that Dr. Bellino is “one of the best” and she has never seen him frazzled.  The head resident drew her initials on my hip to which it was to be operated.  I think the pre-op the staff asked me about 100x “What is your full name, date of birth and the procedure you are having today?” No room for error.

Next up was Dr. Schaffer, the anesthesiologist. Since most of my fears related to being “put under” (I have never had surgery before) I was happy to meet the man who was going to be responsible for suspending me in a state of unconscious limbo.  I immediately got a good vibe from him, he was very nice and easy to talk to.  He answered about 100 questions of mine and again assured me “Dr. Bellino is one of the best.” He was happy to read my healing statements as I was going under and coming out of anesthesia.  In fact, as he scanned the piece of paper with the healing statements, he said, “Funny, this is what I usually tell my patients.”

Before I knew it, he gave me a bit of “happy juice” in my I.v. and I was rolled into the O.R.  I remember sitting up and leaning over as the epidural went in.  All of a sudden, I was moaning and groaning that I was going to pass out. Apparently I had a vagal response and my heart rate went just below 30. They quickly remedied the situation and I was feeling myself guided flat on my back, each arm being stretched out to my side and strapped down, as if it was some sort of crucifixion. Then…nothing.

It didn’t seem but 5 minutes later (actually, the operation took 4.5 hours) that Dr. Schaffer was in my face reassuring me gently, “Your operation went well. You will feel comfortable.”

I was in recovery. My blood pressure was low, which is normal – especially with an epidural. I remember suddenly having extreme nausea and moaning and groaning and dropping the f- word “Please make it f—ing STOP!” as the world spun around me. It was like having the stomach flu and you are at the point where you just want to die.  I heard a lot of hustle and bustle and they placed a patch with medicine behind my ear and gave me some anti-nausea drugs through my i.v. Once that subsided, I asked if I will have a private room (haha!). (note: At Stanford hospital, you can ask for a private room at pre-op as it costs the same as a shared room.  Its not a guarantee, but worth asking). At least I have my priorities straight.

Before I was released to my room, Dr. Bellino visited me and told me the operation went “very well” and that I was “rock solid.” He looked tired but kept his direct and professional manner with an underlying energy of sincerity and compassion. My surgeon succeeded in the left periacetabular osteotomy, and giving me my life back.

Be an advocate, for yourself

For many of us diagnosed with hip dysplasia, there are a myriad of emotions that flood our psyche upon diagnosis: shock, fear, anger, depression, hope, anxiety, self-pity…you name it, we have probably felt it.   Being diagnosed with hip dysplasia and hearing what Doctor #1 had to say (see my former post, “Hip Dysplasia, isn’t that a dog’s disease?”) put me into a tailspin as what my PAO buddy/pen-pal, Jessica, aka Juicer6000, calls the “Dark night of the soul.”  I was forced to give up my outdoor passions and inadvertently, I gave up on a part of myself, my soul. I gave up on my health, rationalizing that I can eat and drink whatever I want. I really wasn’t interested in anything this year, except metal-smithing.  I believe my metal-smithing kept a part of me alive to want to “fix” my diagnosis and move on with my life.  Hence the journey of interviewing 6 surgeons and 1 physical therapist. Below is a summary of assessments, diagnosis’ and my reactions:

Doctor #1:  Dr. Stoll, Louisville, CO: March 30, 2013: Dx: Bilateral hip dysplasia. MRI shows extensive degeneration of labrum ligament on left, much less “diseased” on right.  Mild arthritis in left hip.  Solution: bilateral PAO with labrum repair, refer to 2 other doctors.

My reaction: “Ugh. OK.”

Doctor #2: Dr. Genuario, Steadman-Hawkins, Denver CO, May 15, 2013: Dx. same as above. Solution: double hip replacement, you are too old to have PAO, cut off is age 30 (I was 39 at the time). And then he says “By the way, you will need 3-4 more double hip replacements because they will wear out.”

My reaction: WHAT?!?!??!?! I come to a screeching halt. I thought, “There is no FUCKING way I am going to have 3-4 double hip replacements!”  Instead of just accepting Doctor #2’s solution, I decide to dig deeper, I am highly anxious, my cortisol levels must have been through the roof. I call to schedule an appointment with the second referral , Dr. White.

Doctor #3: Dr. White, Western Orthopedics, Denver CO June 14, 2013: Dx: same as  Dr. #1.  Solution: Labrum repair via hip arthroscopy, 6 weeks later PAO. Repeat on other side 4-5 months later. Refer to talk with Dr. Hugate, the PAO surgeon in Denver to confirm.

My reaction: Are you saying I need FOUR surgeries? FOUR? I am self-employed. The time off from surgery is unpaid. I have a high deductible. I cannot afford to do this.  But I cannot afford not to do this. I call Dr. Hugate. I am now in the midst of dark night of the soul.

(Note: by this time, I have found a great website by Kelly Ariagno, a physical therapist who has adult hip dysplasia and had LPAO surgery. I printed her page of “Questions to ask your PAO surgeon”)

Doctor #4: Dr. Hugate, Colorado Limb Specialists, Denver, CO, July 5, 2013. Dx. Same. Solution: same as Dr. White.  Dr. Hugate confirms being 39 is not too old, though it would have been ‘better’ if I was in my 20’s (if only I had a time machine…) Dr. Hugate elaborates, “We ‘could’ do it at the same time, but I really don’t like to. The hip arthroscopy causes so much swelling that its hard for me to see and reposition the hip socket.”

My reaction: To the last sentence: I want you to feel comfortable and confident when you are screwing my pelvis back together, so do not do them at the same time. I like Dr. Hugate. He is compassionate, professional, and he leveled with me. Though something still did not feel right about four surgeries, at least it didn’t for me. (sub-note: I now know people that have had this process done by White/Hugate and have had great results.)

I was about to accept my fate but something is nagging at me. I email Kelly, the PT in SF. I explain my situation. I inquire about scheduling a session with her, I am desperately trying to find more info about PAO and hip dysplasia. At this point, money is not a factor. This is my pelvis, my health, my life!  If I cannot walk without pain, what is the point in living? I needed more information.  She replies, “Why can’t they repair the ligament at the same time as the PAO? They did that with me without the arthroscopy.”  A light bulb went off in my head. My sister lives in the south Bay Area, so I rationalized it was an excuse for a little vacation. I needed a vacation, this doctor stuff was kicking my ass. And I can meet with Kelly for a session.

Kelly Ariagno, Physical Therapist, San Francisco, Sept. 9, 2013:  Dx: same                        Solution: Refer to Dr. Diab at UCSF and Dr. Bellino at Stanford to get their opinions on 2 vs. 4 total surgeries. In the meantime, strengthen core and hip stabilizers to prepare for PAO surgery.

My reaction: Guess I am buying another ticket to CA for October. At least the weather is nice that time of year, and I get to see my family again! I am starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Doctor #5: Dr. Diab, University of California, San Francisco, October 23, 2013: Dx. same. Solution: PAO with labrum repair at same time (w/o arthroscopy), second operation minimum 6 months later, depending on healing of first operated leg. When I ask him about the separate surgeries for labrum repair via hip arthroscopy and PAO (and even brought up hip replacements) he replied, “There is no reason for that. Look, if you talk to a hip arthroscopic doctor, he will tell you that you need hip arthroscopy. If you talk to a hip replacement doctor, he will tell you that you need hip replacement. I do it all, I teach it all.  I am telling you we can do it in one surgery per side.”

My reaction: I love this doctor. He was ON TIME (shocker, right?) Came out to the waiting room to greet me personally. He was extremely compassionate (probably his nature of being a pediatric orthopedic surgeon) and sensitive.  Yet straightforward and honest. Confident but not cocky, he did not talk down to me. When I told him about how my lifestyle has been halted, he looked me straight in the eyes and said , “I am sorry, that must be very hard for you.” Wow, thank you for acknowledging that!  Anyway, while I felt like I decided on Dr. Diab, I still had an appointment with Dr. Bellino at Stanford.

Doctor #6: Dr. Bellino, Stanford University, October 25, 2013. Dx: same                               Solution: exact same response as Dr. Diab. In fact, he answered all my questions almost exactly the same as Dr. Diab.

My Reaction: Shit. I love Dr. Bellino too. Compassionate, professional, confident not cocky, did not talk down to me…they have very similar bedside manner and answered my questions almost exactly the same way. Tough decision. Very tough. I agonize over deciding. I talk to former patients of each. I meditate on this, I write it out pros and cons, I talk to my family, I do it all.  If nothing else, I am thorough.  I decide on Dr. Diab as he can get me in sooner.

In conclusion, when deciding on a PAO surgeon, do your homework, talk to former patients, and most importantly, listen to yourself and your reactions. Do what best resonates with YOU.

(NOTE: My surgery ended up being with Dr. Bellino ….read on to learn why!)