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DECATUR — Linda Harrison’s left hip had been hurting for several years.

She had some injections and visited a few doctors before finally in January 2013 one told her the cartilage was wearing away and she needed a hip replacement. But Harrison wasn’t ready for surgery. That was until she saw a seminar in Decatur by Springfield orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jacob D. Sams.

“The first words out of my mouth to my husband were, ‘I am mentally ready for this,’ ” Harrison said.

Besides Dr. Sams’ manner of thoroughly explaining the surgical steps, Harrison was convinced by the new approach he was using: anterior hip surgery.

An anterior hip surgery uses the same artificial ball joints and hip cups in the pelvis to replace the worn natural one. The big difference is how the surgeon reaches the ball-and-socket joint. Prior to about five or seven years ago, most hip surgeries were done from a posterior approach. A surgeon makes an incision from behind the hip and cuts several muscles to reach the joint, which means the patient was in for a longer recovery time.

No muscles are cut during the anterior procedure. A small incision is made high on a patient’s leg above the hip and muscles are shifted aside as the prosthetic joint is added.

“You pull them (the muscles) to the side, I look through the window and move the shades back,” Dr. Sams said, explaining the procedure same as he does to his patients.

Since no muscles are severed, recovery and rehab can put someone back at work in as quickly as two weeks, compared to the six to eight weeks with posterior hip surgery. There is also very little risk of a hip dislocation as with the posterior approach.

Dr. Sams was born and raised in Decatur, attending Mount Zion high school before going to medical school at Southern Illinois University, Springfield School of Medicine. He learned the anterior approach during his residency in Springfield where he frequently saw Decatur residents.

He opened the doors to his practice in Mount Zion on Aug. 1. Harrison had her first appointment Aug. 2.

Now that he’s opened his office in Mount Zion, word of mouth from pleased patients has spread fast. He’s seeing patients from around Central Illinois, including Champaign and even has a patient from as far as New Jersey.

“They don’t have to feel this sense that they have to travel somewhere to get the care they need,” Dr. Sams said.

Before the anterior surgery was available in Decatur, resident Jerry Aldridge traveled to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield for both of his hip surgeries. The first was posterior in 2006, the second anterior was in March 2012. Dr. D. Gordon Allan of the Orthopedic Center of Illinois performed the anterior surgery.

When comparing the differences, “oh my gosh, night and day,” Aldridge said. After his first surgery he couldn’t put any weight on his hip for six weeks. The morning after his anterior surgery he was up walking.

“The nurses said ‘if you can walk all the way back to your room, you can go home tomorrow,’ ” Aldridge said. He was home the next day.

Aldridge works part-time at the Northeast Community Center, where he is in charge of food operations. At 74, he remains active throughout the day and walks regularly.

“Because of the surgeries I’m able to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Dr. Sams said less than 10 percent of orthopedic surgeons do this procedure, but he’s very comfortable because it was the technique he trained on and has done around 100 times.

“It’s not something new, it’s not something I’m just trying out,” Dr. Sams said. He regularly gets a sense of fulfillment for how well his patients are recovering.

“As people have experienced this, they’ve just truly done so well.”

When a patient comes in, he will talk about all his or her alternatives before surgery, which is the final option. So far, he’s done about 20 surgeries since opening in August. “To say that number only being open four months, that’s truly amazing.”

The anterior hip surgery requires a special surgical table to raise and lower the leg, creating better access to the joint, and to compare the length of the legs. Both Decatur Memorial Hospital and St. Mary’s hospitals have purchased the hana table at a cost of about $250,000, none of which is passed on to the patient. Dr. Sams has performed the surgery at both hospitals, depending on the patient’s choice.

Similar to Aldridge, Harrison walked up and down the hall twice the day of her surgery Aug. 26, the first one done at DMH. After two weeks of home therapy she went in for her checkup. “I walked into their office with no assistance,” Harrison said.

She isn’t done with hip surgeries though. Dr. Sams took more X-rays and her right hip is no better than the left. But this time she’s confident going in.

“I have no reservations about having the next hip done,” Harrison said.

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