“I’m Back to Dancing—Thanks to My New Hip!”

Leslie Sandler’s hip replacement wasn’t easy—but she’s finally back to
living the life she loves.

Amy Capetta
More Sharing +

Leslie Sandler is a far cry from the person she was just eight months ago. The married mother of two from Malibu, CA, is thrilled to be working out nearly every weekday, citing Afro-salsa, jazz, Cardio Barre classes, and Pilates as her current favorites. “You should see me when I leave jazz class—I’m soaking wet from all of the shaking and moving!” she says. “And no one can believe I’ve had hip replacement surgery!”

But to really understand how far Leslie has come, you’d have to go back about seven years, when she was first diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA) in her left hip. MRI scans revealed severe cartilage deterioration, which made her a candidate for joint replacement surgery. However, Leslie was only 44 at the time and thought, No way—I’m too young! She fought off the pain for six years, all the while listening to her doctors’ gentle reminders, like, “When you’re ready, just let us know.”

“No way to live”
Deep down, Leslie knew the time had come. “For years, I’d been researching hip surgeons and the different types of surgeries,” she admits. While there wasn’t one defining moment that made her take the leap, she recalls a night when she and her 18-year-old son attended a musical. “I was in such excruciating pain that I wanted to freak out. And I remember thinking, This is not a way to live.”

Leslie stayed active right up to the day of her surgery. Although her surgeon said most patients recover within three months, Leslie was still worried. “I am usually so in tune with my body, and now I had chosen to have a fake hip. I was walking into the unknown,” she says.

“Will I ever feel better?”
After two nights in the hospital, Leslie went home to a new reality. “When something as basic as finding a comfortable position in bed—or even getting in and out of bed—was an ordeal, humiliation, frustration and panic set in.” A firm believer in “use it or lose it,” Leslie began doing beginners’ level Pilates and yoga. She also walked—ultra-slowly—for about 15 minutes a day, but worried about whether or not she’d ever feel normal.

When she reached the three-month mark, Leslie felt worse—and now she also had lower back pain. Soon, Leslie started doubting her decision. I wish I had my old hip back, she’d think. Doctors couldn’t find anything wrong on MRIs and X-rays, and concluded she was one of those unfortunate patients who had a “complicated recovery.” The stress became so overwhelming, Leslie took anxiety medication, on and off, for the next three months.

“I love my new hip!”
Then about eight months after the surgery, Leslie’s doctor, Katrina Vlachos, MD, a Los Angeles-based specialist in orthopedic health and rehabilitation, suggested a book by John Sarno, MD, called Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection. It discusses how stressful emotions can intensify pain. “And then everything turned around,” says Leslie. “It helped me understand my anxieties were ‘normal’—and that I had to stop thinking surgery had failed. I had to get to a place where I wasn’t afraid of hurting myself.” That’s when Leslie decided to join a dance class and take more small “risks,” like crossing a busy street, knowing she could run if needed.

May 2013