“I Fight Fires—and Hip Pain Can’t Stop My Call to Duty!”

Having his hips resurfaced helped keep firefighter Ken on the job.

Dana Gottesman
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Ken Knott, a firefighter for the city of Mercer Island, WA, is not the sit-down-and-rest type, especially when it comes to his job. But just shy of his 50th birthday, the devoted fireman suddenly had trouble keeping up with a schedule that included scaling tall buildings as a rope rescuer and diving for the SCUBA rescue team. “When I couldn’t even walk on flat ground without pain or bend down to roll up a fire hose, I knew I had a big problem,” says Ken. 

“It just tore me up”
As his pain grew, the local hero was forced to face a harsh reality: He could no longer act on his passion for saving lives. “My co-workers were scared to ask me to assist with carrying patients down the stairs on stretchers, because of the fear that I would drop them,” says Ken. “That was humiliating.” Beyond the physical pain, there was the emotional anguish of being unable to confidently help others. “I got to the point where someone I was rescuing asked me, ‘Are you okay?’ It just tore me up.”

During his struggles, Ken couldn’t pinpoint what was causing his pain. Was it an old high school football knee injury? His feet? His legs? He was stunned when the orthopedist diagnosed him with osteoarthritis of the hip. But the biggest surprise of all was that Ken was told he should do nothing about it—for the next 10 years.

“The orthopedist said hip replacement surgery was my best option, but that I should wait until I was older to do it,” says Ken. “But I didn’t know if I could get around for another week!” That night, Ken went to work researching more immediate options.

“I’m back, and it feels awesome”
Ken’s search for a second opinion led him to Paul Manner, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Washington Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine clinic. Dr. Manner explained to Ken that an alternative to replacement surgery would be to resurface his hips. Hip resurfacing is much like crowning a tooth—as it serves as the initial step in preserving healthy bone to allow for a future hip replacement.

Ken didn’t know this option even existed. “I realized that by resurfacing my hips, I’d buy time until I needed my hips to be totally replaced, and I’d have more flexibility and range of motion,” he says. “Plus, I’d avoid outliving them.” (Joint replacements typically last 10 to 20 years until revision surgery is necessary.)

In December 2010, Ken had resurfacing surgery on his left hip first, followed by his right hip two years later. After intense rehab, Ken, now 53, says he’s regained a whopping 95% of his regular range of motion. The best part, he says: “Now, I can carry patients down stairs, pull hoses and move without pain. I’m back and it feels awesome.”

July 2013