My parents were both from the South and I was born in Louisiana in 1963. My dad was in the Army so we moved around a great deal which meant that as a child with Perthes, I saw several different doctors. We believe that most of the femoral head vascular necrosis was attributed to a severe infection at age 3 coupled with chicken pox. The referred pain in my knee and not my hip created confusion as to exact cause of problem. Eventually diagnosed with Perthes at age 6, I was placed in a heavy leg brace which kept my legs spread wide for about 18 months.
With crutches I was actually quite mobile and my friends/family pulled me around in a wagon. Neighborhood kids would include me in their baseball games by pinch running for me as I batted from home plate.
Being only 6 years old, I think emotionally the brace was more taxing on my parents than me. After bracing, I showed physical improvement yet there was still some slow displacement of the femoral head and leg length disparity. I was still quite an active boy, but the military doctors were not experienced enough for my condition and my care was transferred to pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stanford Noel in Southern California. At age eleven, Dr. Noel decided two operations were needed to correct the slow hip displacement and leg length disparity. The daunting prospect of necessary surgeries was the scariest and most traumatic experience I recall from my entire Perthes history. My mother cared for me 24 x 7, around the clock after my initial 2 surgeries. At 5′-0″ tall she would garner the strength to carry me in my awkward Spika cast from room to room. With my cast I weighed more than her, but when it comes to children’s well being, the strength of a mother is super human. This illustrates both the importance advocacy plays for Perthes and the profound need for more educational and support organizations dedicated to Perthes in order to help families who have afflicted children.
The two surgeries changed my life as I knew it. My legs were now the same length, no hip pain and I had full engagement in sporting activities. Thanks to Dr. Noel, I went on to be one the fastest base runners on my Varsity High school baseball team, a defensive back and even running back in football and power lifted weights in college. I will never forgot about the family/friends who would tote me around in a wagon and run to first base for me. Those simple gestures brought smiles to my face then and even today.
Thirty four years after my initial surgery and a relatively normal life, there was very little cartilage left in my hip so I had a “hip resurfacing” surgery by Dr. Thomas Gross in South Carolina. Once again, legs were same length, no hip pain and full engagement in sporting activities. At age fifty four activities are now low impact such as Stand Up Paddle-boarding, occasional golf and elliptical machine training. Perthes not only affects the child but immediate family and friends. Strong support and educational websites aid in the children’s emotional journey to becoming “normal”. Please help where you can, only the surgical scars will heal themselves.