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Helen's Orthopedic Comeback Story

When Helen Santibanez, 60, was diagnosed with a bad right hip, it surprised her. "The pain didn't seem to be in my hip," remembers Helen. "It was more in the groin area."

Helen laughingly describes herself as a "retired handyman." She and her husband used to own several rental houses in the University District and Helen did most of the maintenance work. But then she started having so much pain that it was hard, if not impossible, to do certain projects.

Helen had managed to cope with the pain for many years because it always subsided after a few days and she could return to her normal activities. Eventually, it became "like an electric shock" going down her leg and it didn't go away.

Approximately two years ago, Helen's primary care physician referred her to a rheumatologist for an assessment. When the X-rays came back, Helen says, "even I could tell the 'good' hip from the 'bad' hip." She immediately visited an orthopedic surgeon to talk about the possibility of hip replacement surgery.

Helen has a background in architecture and thought about how important the hip is in supporting the rest of the body. "This is a major part of you being taken out and replaced," she says. "If something goes wrong, you could really be in trouble."

To prepare for the surgery in spring of 2014, Helen attended a special class at Virginia Mason where she met the team that would take care of her. This included an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, the nurse who would care for her as an inpatient and other support people. "They answered all my questions and really boosted my confidence that they knew what they were doing," remembers Helen. "I felt that I would be well taken care of." The nurse gave Helen a phone number to call anytime if any concerns came up for her.

Helen also appreciated that all the tests and assessments she needed were done in one place at Virginia Mason. "I didn't have to go to one building for the doctor's appointment, another for blood work and another for X-rays. It was efficient."


“I knew that I wouldn't have this constant pain after the surgery and I was looking forward to doing things.”


Helen said that as the time for her surgery drew closer, she found her stress level going down rather than up. "I felt really well prepared," she says. "I knew that I wouldn't have this constant pain after the surgery and I was looking forward to doing things."

Prior to surgery, Helen had been an avid gardener and is now enjoying it again. "I know when I get down on the ground, I'm going to be able to get back up again!"

In addition to learning all she could about her hip replacement operation. Helen prepared for her surgery by swimming every day to strengthen her muscles. "From everything that I had learned, my sense was that the more physically fit you are going into the surgery, the better you'll do coming out of it. In my case, that was true."

Helen's operation was in the late afternoon and by that evening, she was up and walking with the help of a physical therapist. "I was so shocked that there was no pain," she remembers. While she was in the hospital, both an occupational and a physical therapist went over in detail how to safely move about when she got home. "I liked that they asked me detailed questions so that we were talking about my house and not just any house in general."

Helen is now helping other patients recover from hip replacement surgery as a volunteer with Virginia Mason's "Peer Partners" program. "I've had seven surgeries in my life and this was the first time I felt I had a whole team with one goal: to make me better. Volunteering is the least I can do to say thank you to everyone at Virginia Mason."

If you would like more information about Virginia Mason’s joint replacement programs, call us at
(206) 341-3000.