The De Smet Hippy Experience

Alive and kicking

Hydro therapy – 5 days after the operation

In January I travelled to Gent in Belgium for a hip resurfacing operation with Dr Koen De Smet. Several people asked me to post about my experience there but I was waiting for some photos to arrive. They are now here (no gory ones) so read on …

I have had osteoarthritis in my right hip for about 25 years. It became severe in 2007. I developed a limp and was kept awake at night with the pain.  Dr John Lyon, my former GP in Scotland, suggested that, as I was active, I should look at hip resurfacing rather than a total hip replacement. I’m very grateful to him for this advice.

Hip replacement is a relatively new technique developed in the UK. The main difference from traditional replacement surgery is that it preserves the patient’s own femur instead of lopping off the head and replacing it. It allows one to resume a very active lifestyle – even ski-ing. Traditional replacements may only last for 10-15 years but a resurfacing should never wear out. Resurfacing is typically done on patients under 65 who are active and have good bone density.

It isn’t possible to get this type of  surgery in Greece so I investigated alternatives. I came across the AMC Hip Clinic in Gent, which attracted me due to its rehabilitation facilities. Through various Internet sites I discovered that the surgeon at the AMC, Koen De Smet, is one of the world’s leading experts on resurfacing. Dr De Smet offers free consultancy via email.. I sent him my x-rays and a bone density scan. Luckily I have good strong bones and he told me I was a very good candidate for the procedure.

The only possible complication in my case is that I have a skin sensitivity to nickel. Some patients develop an allergy to the metal resurfacing device. Dr De Smet advised me that there is no known correlation between skin sensitivity and deep tissue allergy. Although tests are being developed he does not believe these are reliable as yet. He chose to use a recently developed prothesis which has been shown to produce far less metal ions than earlier variations.

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The Wright Conserve Plus device used in my operation

I arrived in Gent two days before my operation. George came with me and stayed until after the operation. We stayed at the Villa Cento Passi, run by Hugo Contini, a large building that houses both the clinic and rehabilitation centre. George and I spent a day exploring Gent (well, as much as my limping would allow). We also met and talked with other patients who were due to be operated on the same week as myself.

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The Villa Cento Passi

The clinic is on the ground floor of the Villa and it was very stress-free to be able to sit in my room reading while I waited to be called for my pre-op examinations – cardiologist, X-rays etc.

The operation took place at 0930 on a Wednesday morning. It lasted about an hour and was performed in a small public hospital in Gent. The hospital was very clean, the staff excellent, and the food awful – no make that really awful – although the coffee was good. The only real discomfort I felt was for about an hour in the recovery room. After that I was amazed at how painfree I was. My hip and knee had bothered me for years but from that morning all pain was gone. Fantastic!

On the morning after my surgery I had my first physiotherapy session and went for a walk on crutches along the hospital corridor. In the afternoon I tried again but fainted (luckily I had time to warn the nurse). I understand this is a not uncommon reaction to the anasthetic. The following day I was shown how to tackle stairs and then we were allowed ‘home’ to the Villa.

The Villa is a rehab centre like they should be. Comfortable rooms with adjustable beds, minibars, big walk in showers, raised toilets. You can set up your laptop with Internet access and each room has a large TV screen. In the hall there is an ice machine for filling up the ice packs so useful in reducing swelling at the incision site.

The ground floor houses the hydrotherapy pool, gym and fitness centre. Our first hydrotherapy session was on Friday afternoon, two days post-op. It was wonderful! After months of walking in pain and two days on crutches it was amazing to be able to walk painlessly and unaided with the support of the water.

The first day’s session was simply walking around the pool – forwards, backwards, sideways, with the physiotherapist making sure we were walking correctly. Over the course of the next week we gradually had more exercises added until we were jogging, cycling and doing ski-turns in the water. Here are some photos of the hydrotherapy sessions which will interest anyone who is thinking of going there. Click on the thumbnails to see an enlarged image.

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On the top floor of the Villa the restaurant serves delicious food and a wide selection of the famous Belgium beer as well as tasty wines. We appreciated it all the more after the slices of bread and cold meat we were offered in the hospital. The restaurant became a focus and meeting point for the patients while I was there. I belive that most weeks a similar thing happens and patients and their accompanying relatives form a strong support group for each other, offering encouragement, teasing, motivation.

During my week we tended to eat in the Villa but some groups make trips to nearby restaurants. We also entertained ourselves and on our penulatimate evening invited the staff along. Ralph Nichols, former lead singer with the Sandpipers and the Lettermen, was a fellow patient. He borrowed a keyboard and sang beautifully. What a lovely voice and human being – you can learn more about Ralph on his website which is here. Before he performed I did a little ‘warm up’ with a poem I had written about the staff and patients who were there.

My final photographs are of the patients in the restaurant. I hope they show how relaxed and comfortable everyone was. If it were not for the crutches, the daily visit to the nurse for wound dressing and heparin injections (and the alcohol) we could have been in a health spa. 

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Myself and Stelios, also from Greece

The thumbnails below show some of the patients in the restaurant, my ‘recitation’ , and Ralph at the keyboard being watched by Koen. Apparently Koen wanted to be a musician but decided to become a surgeon instead. I’m very glad he did!

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Today I celebrate 9 weeks with my new joint. I can do every normal daily activity with no pain or discomfort. I’ve been getting a lot of physiotherapy (Greek physios are very good) and I try to walk a couple of kms each day.

I haven’t been sailing yet but it I have been on the yachts in harbour. My balance is so much better crossing the passarelle now that I can fully support myself on both legs. I’m looking forward to this summer and plenty of activity.

We have a number of medical clients so if anyone wants more information please contact me by email and I’ll happily answer questions about my operation and my experience in Belgium. I’d thoroughly recommend this procedure but it is more technically challenging than a hip replacement so requires an experienced surgeon for successful results.

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