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Press Releases

Dr. Westrich Saves a Woman's Leg after Five Doctors Give Her Little Hope

(New York, N.Y. March 15, 2006). A rare operation performed by Dr. Geoffrey Westrich at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan saved a woman's leg after five orthopedic surgeons told her it would likely need to be amputated from the hip. It's the story of a 66 year-old woman who refused to give up, although she suffered from extreme pain and could barely use her leg. It's about a daring and complicated operation that saved Pat Bennett's limb, and according to the Connecticut woman, gave her life back to her.

It all started about four years ago, following complications from hip replacement surgery that included a fractured femur, loss of bone and a severe infection. "It was a terrible time. The doctors did not want to deal with it because it was such a complicated case," says Mrs. Bennett, a former medical secretary. "Nobody was giving me any hope. Every office I walked out of, I was in tears."

Dr. Westrich, director of joint replacement research at the Hospital for Special Surgery, was willing to try something else-a rare and complex operation called a "total femur replacement" to save her leg. In this procedure, surgeons remove the entire thigh bone and replace it with a metal prosthesis. A total hip replacement and a total knee replacement are also performed.

But in Mrs. Bennett's case, Dr. Westrich faced another challenge. Before the implant was put in, he had to eradicate the infection. He performed two operations that took a total of seven hours. In the first, he removed everything and put in a temporary custom-made cement spacer that released antibiotics to fight the infection, and a temporary prosthesis. The second operation, three months later, was the total femur replacement.

The total femur replacement was custom-made for Mrs. Bennett based on Dr. Westrich's specifications. It was a modular system adjusted to her individual anatomy. "It was like assembling an erector set in the operating room," says Dr. Westrich, who also needed to reconstruct her entire hip socket. The implant is made of cobalt chromium, with high density polyethylene plastic in the artificial hip and knee joints to allow for motion.

Pat Bennett's ordeal started about four years ago. In her words, she lived "three and a half years of hell" after hip replacement surgery went terribly wrong. First, her femur was fractured during the operation. Then a terrible infection set in. She changed doctors and got shocking news. He said amputation would probably be necessary. She refused to accept it, even when four more orthopedic surgeons told her it was unlikely her leg could be saved. Finally, a doctor in Connecticut recommended she go to the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. That is where she was referred to Dr. Westrich, who was surprised when he saw her leg, it was in such bad condition.

"It was a horror story, but I couldn't give up," Mrs. Bennett says. One of the reasons was that she took care of her husband, who had suffered a stroke and also had diabetes and needed dialysis. Other family members relied on her as well.

Now, eight months after the operation, she is doing well. She has no more pain, is able to do her chores, take care of her husband and even go out shopping. Mrs. Bennett says she is just now "beginning to feel like a person again." Dr. Westrich is very pleased with her progress. "It's a shame she had to go through so much, but right now, it's gratifying to see her back on her feet and doing well."

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