Nearly every day, year-round, Raylene Walsh takes her 15-year-old German shepherd, Meeka, for a walk.
They wander through Walsh’s 10 acres in Belding, Michigan, to the Flat River, which is like paradise for her constant companion.
“She has to go swimming,” Walsh said. “In the winter, she paws at the water if it freezes. She looks at me like, ‘Mom, where’s the water?’ She’s amazing. I don’t know what I’m going to do when something happens to her.”
Their walks are one of life’s simple pleasures. And Walsh cherishes them now more than ever, because she can enjoy them without pain—thanks to two total hip replacements, one in December 2018 and one in March 2022.
At 76, Walsh is not one to sit around.
When she’s not taking care of Meeka, she’s enjoying her grandchildren, taking care of her property, making crafts or working her assembly line job.
Many of her friends and coworkers would describe her as tough.
“The people at work can’t believe I’m 76, let alone doing the work I am doing,” Walsh said.
But not long ago, her arthritic hips began to slow her down.
For about a year and a half before her first surgery, her right hip bothered her. She opted for hip replacement surgery with Bryan Kamps, MD, a Spectrum Health orthopedic surgeon specializing in joint replacement.
All went well in that procedure. About five months later, she was back in full action without a walker or cane.
A few years later, her other hip started hurting. She tried injections, which helped for a while. Pain medications took the edge off enough for her to work.
“The last two injections did absolutely nothing for me,” Walsh said. “That’s when I decided I had to do something.”
The anterior approach
She reconnected with Dr. Kamps, who was now at Spectrum Health Pennock Orthopedics and Pain Center in Hastings. He told her it was time for another hip replacement.
“He said to me, ‘I don’t know how you’re living with this,’” Walsh said.
He also talked with her about another surgery option.
Dr. Kamps said he had replaced Walsh’s first hip with the traditional posterior approach, which involves more soft tissue exposure and detaching muscles from the bone, which are then reattached.
For her second surgery, Dr. Kamps asked if Walsh would be interested in the increasingly popular anterior approach.
This surgical technique is less invasive and it’s performed with a smaller incision, Dr. Kamps said. Additionally, the surgeon does not actually detach muscle from the bone, but instead goes between muscles to access the hip joint.
“It’s a little bit more challenging to do the anterior approach, just because it’s a smaller incision and it requires some special positioning of the leg,” Dr. Kamps said. “Some surgeons, myself included, use a special operating room table to do the procedure.”
While there’s no uniform agreement among surgeons about which approach is best—the majority of hip replacements are still done with the posterior approach—the anterior approach is becoming more popular, as more surgeons are gaining experience with it, Dr. Kamps said.
While he has performed the posterior approach thousands of times, he has done the anterior approach a handful of times.
Still, he’s “thoroughly prepared for it” if patients are interested.
Not everyone is a candidate for the anterior approach, Dr. Kamps said. Patients can ask their surgeon about their options.
Research shows the anterior method can result in better pain control after surgery, quicker recovery and less risk of hip dislocation after surgery.
Having experienced both approaches, Walsh is a fan of the anterior.
She experienced a much shorter recovery time.
After the first procedure, she used a walker or cane for about five months. After the second, it was a matter of weeks.
She also found sitting to be much more comfortable the second time. She got back to work within two months.
‘I don’t have the pain’
Walsh said she’s grateful to Dr. Kamps for everything.
“I tell everyone he’s amazing. I just love him,” Walsh said. “When he proposed (the anterior approach) in the beginning, he said, ‘I’m not trying to talk you into this, but I’m going to tell you that your recovery time is going to be less.’ I said, ‘Well you know I’m in for that.’ I’m not one for being laid up.”
Walsh has been working factory jobs, on concrete floors with intense physical demands, since age 17. She now works temporary factory jobs, sometimes only one week a month, but right now for a stretch over two months straight.
“It’s very physical, and it was absolutely killing me to work that last year,” Walsh said. “You’re on your feet the whole shift. I used to crawl in there and crawl out.”
After surgery, she’s back to business.
“It’s still a rough job, but I don’t have the pain. Absolutely none,” she said.
Walsh has seen her share of struggles and losses in life. Her husband died in 2018 and then, in October 2020, her 27-year-old granddaughter died. She also lost her sister and brother-in-law around the same time.
She’s now devoted to helping her great-grandchildren, who lost their mother, as much as she can. They go shopping, fishing, sledding, make crafts together, carve pumpkins, paint rocks, plant seeds and more.
“I sometimes wonder why I am still here, but I know it’s because of the kids,” she said. “We do a lot together.”
Walsh also used to have a craft business, but now she does it as a hobby.
Her most recent project is sewing a baby quilt for a family friend. Maintaining her 10 acres, where she has trails and even a small campground for family, also keeps her active. She also has plans to paint her kitchen cupboards.
And she gets her daily walks in with Meeka.
German shepherds, she said, aren’t likely to live as long as Meeka has, with a typical life span of 10 to 13 years. Lots of exercise keeps them healthy, so their walks help them both.
“I eat right and I take care of myself and I stay active,” Walsh said. “I think that’s why I stay as well as I do.”