By Stuart Robinson
SPRINGDALE – It’s dawn and Scott Hamilton is sprinting his neighborhood roads before work. The 39-year-old recently finished 20th overall at the Hogeye half marathon April 10 in Fayetteville. His pace was 7:48 per mile, which secured an overall time of 1:42:14 – a notable accomplishment, but even more so because Hamilton competes with an artificial hip.
Patients, like Hamilton, who undergo total hip replacement surgery, are encouraged to participate in light exercises post-op. Hamilton heeded this advice for about a year. It was then that equal parts spirit and rebellion compelled Hamilton to further defy the odds against him.
Hamilton represents the minority of people who have had hip replacements. More than 193,000 total hip replacements are performed each year in the United States, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, and of that number less than 10 percent of patients are younger than 60.
The commonality: arthritis.
Hamilton’s arthritis stemmed from trauma experienced more than two decades ago. “In junior high I fell 20 feet from scaffolding when it tipped over,” he says. “I broke my hip, both elbows and had a concussion.”
The accident occurred in the spring of ’87 when he was helping clean the gym after a school dance. He was hospitalized for a week having pins and screws inserted to stabilize fractured bones. Hamilton was an all-around athlete but had no choice other than to watch from the sidelines after his violent fall.
“Sports were my life back then – football, basketball, baseball and track,” says Hamilton. He made a return to athletics one year in high school but realized his body had not fully recovered.
In the late ‘90s Hamilton became active again, participating in casual racquetball matches and pickup basketball games. He began running in the early 2000s and started progressing to longer distances. He ran a half marathon and was inspired to train for a full – 26.2 miles. He ran the Tulsa marathon with a time of 3 hours and 36 minutes in 2008.
Runs following the Tulsa race proved difficult. Hamilton would rest for a few days hoping to ease joint pain – a result of the wearing away of his cartilage – but time was no longer the answer for recovery. He had been developing arthritis for years and had learned, more or less, how to manage the pain. But now he knew his hip had become an unbearable problem, one that needed to be dealt with immediately.
Hamilton scheduled an appointment in March ’09 and was soon eyeing an X-ray showing the cause of his suffering.
Dr. Kris Hanby, an orthopaedic surgeon at Ozark Orthopaedics in Fayetteville, guided Hamilton through the basics of his illuminated anatomy; it wasn’t good.
“Scott had no cartilage left when he came in,” says Hanby, whose special interests include knee and hip surgery. The accident in ’87 had resulted in degenerative arthritis over time.
“Bone was grinding on bone and it was clear that I was a candidate for a total hip replacement,” says Hamilton. They agreed to have the surgery the following month.
In the time between his X-ray and the surgery, Hamilton struggled with the uncertainty of his future physical abilities. Obviously he couldn’t continue running on grinding bones, but the implant of an artificial hip could limit his physical capacity.
“It literally brought me to tears,” says Hamilton, recalling his improbable return to running and other high-impact activities.
Dr. Hanby, and orthopaedists alike, recommends moderate activities for hip replacement patients, such as swimming and cycling. They’re easier on the body, whereas running is strenuous because of its high-impact nature. Hamilton bought a bicycle and an indoor trainer and began cycling a few weeks after surgery, getting back into shape and familiarizing himself with the prosthesis.
A whim led Hamilton to register for the Hogeye half marathon, a few days shy of the first full year with his new hip. The recommended exercises strengthened Hamilton’s muscles enough to where he felt confident finishing the race. Not only did he finish, but also his time of 1:42:14 placed him 20th overall in a field of 546 runners. He finished 1st in the 35-39 age group that included 31 runners.
But Hamilton’s decision to compete at this level may have future consequences.
“It’s amazing what Scott has been able to do but it’s likely that the replacement will wear out faster because of the pounding from running,” says Hanby.
Hanby says that companies are advertising hips to last 30 years and that Hamilton’s hip is not expected to last quite that long because of his athletic preferences.
Hamilton is aware of this, but the spirit and rebellion that drove him to first challenge his hip in the Hogeye have reemerged yet again. He’s currently training for a half Ironman in June, a triathlon race featuring a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and, finally, a 13.1-mile run to the finish.