New hips, shorter trips
Sharyn Shell

After two hip surgeries, Sharyn Shell can once again walk Toronto’s Beltline pain-free.

Hip replacement procedures used to involve a week-long hospital stay. Now patients can get in and out on the day of the operation

It’s hard to imagine Sharyn Shell, 67, doing anything slowly. “I’ve always been active – I have ADHD, and I talk too fast and move too fast,” explains the Toronto retiree, who spent much of her career teaching children with vision loss. But not long ago, when the severe arthritis in Shell’s hips was at its worst, unrelenting pain brought her pace to a crawl, interfering with every facet of her life, including beloved pastimes like hours-long walks visiting Toronto’s beaches with friends and bargain hunting. She also had to quit her consulting job. “It was hard to get onto the subway and carry my materials,” she says.

Yet the prospect of a second hip replacement surgery – she needed two separate procedures – and another hospital stay made Shell anxious. “You worry about what’s going to happen. Will they be able to fix it?” As it turned out, not only did Shell get her former life back thanks to the way University Health Network’s (UHN’s) Arthritis Program and the Sprott Department of Surgery have transformed their approach to hip replacement, but she was able to return home within hours of the operation.

The previous approach

While hip surgery is now fairly routine, the recovery process has traditionally been long and difficult. It was normal for patients to be in hospital for a week. They would arrive two days before surgery to do blood work and an electrocardiogram, and have an anesthesia consult, and then spend five or so days post-operation recovering in bed.

Six years ago, the Ontario government asked hospitals to shrink the average length of stay after a hip replacement to four-and-a-half days. “We thought that was crazy,” says Dr. Rod Davey, an orthopedic surgeon within the Sprott Department of Surgery and Head of Patient Safety and Quality in the Arthritis Program at UHN. Not only did they hit that target, but two years ago they reduced the time in hospital even further. Now, most patients are out within a day.