Russell Gordner was only 54 years old, so living with severe hip pain for the rest of his life wasn’t an option. As a tree trimmer and a certified arborist, he couldn’t keep working with such intense pain — he needed to find a solution.
Russell’s hip pain started suddenly and was getting progressively worse. He hadn’t injured it at work or fallen, so he wasn’t sure what was wrong. He began his search for answers.
After an x-ray and an MRI imaging study, Russell’s primary care doctor found he had avascular necrosis in his left hip. “I had no idea what avascular necrosis was, but I started to do a lot of research,” says Russell.
A Diagnosis of Avascular Necrosis
Avascular necrosis happens when there is a loss of blood circulation to the bone. Bone is living tissue and needs blood to survive, when bone doesn’t have good blood supply, the bone can start to die or even collapse. This is most often found in the joints of hips, knees, and shoulders. Injury, trauma, or other chronic diseases can cause avascular necrosis, but for 20% of people that have avascular necrosis, the cause is unknown.
“The pain started in December and kept getting worse. First, I talked to my doctor who sent me to an orthopaedic surgeon,” says Russell. “The orthopaedic surgeon recommended a total hip replacement.”
A total hip replacement is the most common treatment for avascular necrosis because of the pain and disability it can cause in most patients, but Russell felt a hip replacement wasn’t the best option for him.
“A hip replacement would have ended my career. As an arborist I need to be able to climb trees,” says Russell. “The doctor said after a hip replacement if I kept working I would run the risk of dislocating the new hip and causing more injury.”
A Search for Treatment Options
Russell began researching alternative treatment options for avascular necrosis. He knew hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO) had worked for his wife when she was suffering from lupus a few years earlier. “I read that some people with avascular necrosis were helped with hyperbaric oxygen therapy, so my next step was to talk to my doctor about it,” says Russell.
Russell talked to his doctor, and Alicia Meadows, DO, a rheumatologist at UPMC, who both agreed hyperbaric oxygen therapy could be an option. Russell happily made an appointment at the Wound Healing Center at UPMC where Karla Anderson, MD, vascular surgeon, informed him hyperbaric oxygen therapy could help the type of avascular necrosis he had. Shortly after, they received authorization from his insurance to move forward with treatment.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is best known as a cure for wounds or decompression illness for scuba divers, but it has benefits to many other patients. The air we breathe every day is approximately 21% oxygen. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber, allowing 20 times more oxygen to be absorbed into the bloodstream. This oxygen helps tissue heal faster.
Russell began treatments in early March and began feeling better right away. His treatments continued through May. Treatments take approximately 2.5 hours, but you take frequent breaks from being in the chamber. William Beltz, MD, was treating Russell through his 30 treatment sessions. Russell says, “Dr. Beltz, Ann [Clements, CRNP], the nurses, techs, and everyone there was great.”
Free From Pain
“Today, I am pain-free and able to continue working,” says Russell. “I may have to have more treatments in the future, but the hyperbaric oxygen therapy worked. It improved the blood circulation to my hip bone and relieved my pain.”