Dancing was an exhilarating outlet for nonprofit professional Gael Clark. But years of chronic hip and leg pain eventually forced her off the dance floor.

For middle school teacher Gina Poteet, sore knees kept her virtually tethered to a classroom stool when standing became too painful.
High school golf coach and big wave surfer Van Johnstone found that a lifetime of athletics had taken its toll. He developed crippling back problems from degenerative disc disease.

All three of these area residents have regained their active lifestyles, with only one regret: they didn’t opt for surgery sooner.

A Surgical Shift

“When I arrived, the average age of hip and knee replacement patients was 78,” says Larry Gersten, MD, an orthopedic surgeon on staff at Saddleback Medical Center since 1988. “Since then, the average age has steadily declined.”

While the average age for hip and knee replacement has decreased, the number of surgeries has significantly increased. Why? Because with longer lasting joint prosthetics and improved surgical techniques, patients are able to get back on their feet – and into life – faster.

“Younger adults are reaping the benefits of improved techniques,” says Bryce Johnson, MD, orthopedic surgeon and chief of surgery at Saddleback Medical Center. “With less invasive procedures, we‘re seeing the same long-term outcomes as traditional surgeries but with dramatically less collateral damage to soft tissue. Patients have less scarring, less pain and quicker recovery times.”

All-Star Care

Saddleback Medical Center’s innovative orthopedic care model, anchored by a patient coordinator and supported by nurses and therapists, leads patients to recovery every step of the way. Through its commitment to best practices, Saddleback Memorial has earned the coveted “Best Hospital” ranking in orthopedics from U.S. News & World Report, as well as the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Award of Distinction for joint replacements and spine surgery.

The Right Moves

As for Gael, thanks to her double hip replacement, she’s now dancing twice a week – much to the delight and amazement of her partners.

Less than two months after her first knee replacement, Gina accompanied her family on their annual hiking trip to Sedona, Arizona. Encouraged by her progress but still limited in her climbing abilities, ninety days later she and Dr. Gersten scheduled the second knee surgery.

Six months after his minimally invasive spinal procedure, Van was in Mexico, surfing 15-foot waves. “My nerve pain is gone,” says Van. “I now ask myself, ‘Why did I wait?’ My advice is to find a good doctor like Dr. Johnson and exhaust every option, but don’t put off something that could turn your life around.”