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'I cannot describe the joy of moving again'

Few things in life bring 68-year-old Barb Hammes more joy than being surrounded by family and nature. So, when a three-generation trip to Europe presented itself, Barb and her husband, Bud, seized the opportunity.

What they didn't know at the time of booking their vacation was that Barb would be just six weeks out from having a total hip replacement.

"I was motivated to recover," says Barb, who had her eyes set on hiking the Pyrenees of France and Spain.

Not too young for joint pain

Like an estimated 30 million Americans, Barb suffers from osteoarthritis. Sometimes referred to as "wear and tear" arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common chronic condition of the joints, often occurring in the knees, hips and low back.

At age 49, Barb first recognized osteoarthritis in her feet. She could no longer comfortably wear her waterski and downhill ski boots, so she chose to have bunion and hammer toe corrective surgery on both feet. With some reluctance, she also decided to stop slalom waterskiing, but her four children had a different plan. They bought her a new slalom waterski for Mother's Day that year.

"They explained it was specially shaped for us aging 'boomers.' With all that pressure, I continued to waterski and was so happy to teach each of my seven grandchildren." She also resumed hiking, bicycling and canoeing without any limitations.

The pain returns

Despite earlier relief, in 2016 osteoarthritis in her hips became especially painful, often waking her at night. "The pain eventually progressed to the point that it was limiting my activities and life choices, as hard to face as it was," she admits.

For Barb, not being active was not an option. "I love being outdoors. I love to move. I wanted to be available to care for my 90-year-old parents and play with my grandkids."

Mark Topolski, MD

Mark Topolski, MD

She began researching hip pain and completed Gundersen Health System's online Hip and Knee Health Risk Assessment, before scheduling her first appointment with Gundersen orthopedic surgeon Mark Topolski, MD. For about a year, Barb worked with Dr. Topolski to manage the pain using over-the- counter medication, stretches and a balance of activity and rest. Unfortunately, the osteoarthritis progressed.

At a follow-up appointment that revealed additional wear in her right hip, Dr. Topolski explained that hip replacements last about 20 years. "I laughed and said, 'At 68, what am I waiting for!'"

Barb scheduled a total hip replacement with Dr. Topolski for March 13, 2017. Six weeks later, she was boarding a plane with her family and hiking the Cap de Creus and the 5-mile sea coast trail from El Port de la Selva to Llanca along the France-Spain border— with only a hiking stick!

Moving and having fun

While Barb made total joint replacement look easy, rehabilitation had its challenges.

"About one month after surgery, I remember feeling discouraged that I may be walking with a limp the rest of my life." Barb had been doing the prescribed strengthening exercises and was back walking the trails again.

"The Physical Therapy team gave me a few more exercises, and, more importantly, feedback and reassurance I was headed on the right path. At Gundersen, I never felt alone on this journey. I never doubted I would be active again," she says.

Barb is back to bicycling through the wetland trails and hiking the Coulee Region bluffs again, without fear of a hip lockup and loss of balance. "I cannot describe the joy of moving again and having fun!"

Gundersen Orthopedic specialists can help you get back to an active lifestyle—whether you have chronic joint pain or have been injured. Visit to schedule an appointment close to home.

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