Angela McNeeley was born with developmental dysplasia of the hip, which means there was a problem with the formation of her hip joint. When discovered early hip dysplasia can be treated with special harnesses or casts. But for children like Angela, whose hip dysplasia wasn't diagnosed until she was five years old, treatment is much more serious. Please watch this video to learn more about how Boston Children's Hospital treats developmental dysplasia of the hip in older children.
I remember the day my mom decided to take my complaints seriously. I had been suffering off and on for quite a long time — maybe a year — about a pain in my left leg. It would run down my thigh and around my knee. On this day, the pain was really bad. I was on the brink of tears because I was so fed up with the pain that would not go away — not with Advil, Tylenol, or a heating pad.
After getting the usual advice (rest, Tylenol, heating pad), my doctor told me to come back in a week. I felt kind of hopeless at that moment because I knew that these remedies would not make the pain go away. I didn’t hold this against my doctor, but I was frustrated that nothing was going to get done immediately.
One week later, I was back at my doctor’s office. This time, my doctor ordered X-rays for both my knee and hip. Since the pain was usually centered around my knee, I felt that had to be the source of the pain. I was completely wrong.
At the time, I had absolutely no idea what was ahead of me. I’m not really sure on the details of how I was referred to a surgeon at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (CCMC), but I clearly remember my experience with this man. My mom and I had checked in and given my X-rays to the front desk staff and were waiting together to see what was going to happen next. The wait seemed forever and I kept asking my mom what was going to happen (even though she didn’t know herself!).
The doctor finally came in and told my mom and me that I needed surgery on my hip. He showed us the X-rays and my hip was completely out of place compared to where it should have been. Meanwhile, I was reeling from the news that I was going to have surgery. I never imagined that was even a possibility. My naïve 12-year-old self thought maybe all I needed was a cast or something. The other major news? I would have to travel to Boston to get that surgery because it could not be performed at CCMC. My mom and I were stunned at this turn of events. I was in disbelief. The doctor left the room before we could ask any questions. That gave me false hope that maybe, just maybe, he was mistaken and I didn’t need any surgery.
I really did need the surgery and that’s how I came to meet the wonderful people at Children’s Hospital Boston, including the extraordinary Dr. Michael Millis. Now, our first introduction didn’t go that well. I was pretty resentful and kind of hostile about what was happening to me. So, I wasn’t exactly my normal, nice self when I met Dr. Millis. However, he very easily changed my mind about doctors (especially about him). Even though I wanted to remain in a bad mood, I just couldn’t because Dr. Millis was so nice and friendly and wonderful to me and my mom, dad and brother.
At that first meeting, Dr. Millis also told me that my hip dysplasia was one of the most serious cases he’d ever seen. Again, little did I know what that actually meant for me in the following months. My surgery was booked immediately, but that meant I didn’t actually have it for a few months.
My family and I drove up to Boston the night before my surgery. We got in pretty late, around 9 o’clock and we still had to eat dinner. I remember my “last” meal before I had to fast for the required time before surgery. It was at a restaurant on Newbury Street, and I had a chicken sandwich. Although everyone else in my family was starving, I was pretty nervous. That chicken sandwich looked pretty colossal. Needless to say, I did not eat much.
The next morning, I woke up feeling not very rested. I wasn’t feeling too nervous but I was worried about swallowing water (forbidden by the fasting rule) while brushing my teeth! We made our way to the hospital and to the pre-op clinic. But since we were so early, my parents decided to eat breakfast at Au Bon Pain. That was pretty torturous for me because I was starving at that point and had to be witness to my parents and brother eating those yummy cranberry muffins. I couldn’t even drink any water.
After our (well, their) brief pit stop, I headed to the pre-op clinic with my mom. My dad had taken my brother out in Boston since my surgery was supposed to be about six hours (not fair!). The details about the pre-op clinic are kind of fuzzy, but I remember meeting with a nurse and being asked some questions like “what did you eat for breakfast?” — trick question! “Nothing, of course” (I only wished). After that, we were sent back to the waiting room.
Eventually, I was called and directed to change into my hospital gown. I met the anesthesiologist and was asked again if I had had anything to eat or drink (a very important question). Anyway, I was fine so I was prepped for surgery. I think Dr. Millis came in briefly to say hello and mention a couple of things. Then I was given the shot of anesthesia and felt very sleepy very quickly. I said goodbye to my mom and was off to the operating room but I conked out before I reached the room.
My greatest worry had been throwing up after the surgery (due to the anesthesia) but luckily, when I heard the nurses/anesthesiologist calling my name, I felt fine. I smiled because I had made it through the surgery. However, my eyes were so puffy, I couldn’t even open them and I was very thirsty. Unfortunately, the breathing tube that had been in my throat throughout the surgery had irritated my throat to the point that I could barely whisper. I kept whispering “water” until someone finally understood what I was saying and got me a cup and a straw.
I briefly saw my parents in the recovery room and once I was wheeled up to my hospital room, I got to see my brother. I was super exhausted and just wanted to sleep for a long time. I later learned that my surgery had lasted eight hours! It’s weird to think about those hours because to me, the whole thing felt like a minute!
I spent seven days in the hospital and I did a lot of sleeping. My nurses and the staff were always great and super kind. My stay was really great, except for those early morning rounds, when I would be woken up to ask how I was doing. Throughout it all, Dr. Millis was there for me. The first time I was testing out my crutches, I took too big of a step and would have fallen had it not been for Dr. Millis being there and literally catching me before I fell.
I spent a month in a wheelchair and out of school. Then I was on crutches for another two months until the plate and pins in my hip were removed in another surgery. Again, I received the same top-notch quality of care during that shorter stay.
My recovery wasn’t too bad. Other than being out of commission for a few months at a time and starting high school on crutches, there weren’t too many negatives. My pain was well controlled.
Ironically, I don’t remember the moment I was able to walk again without any aids. But the best part is that now, almost ten years later, my hip feels and moves better than ever. I credit that to Dr. Millis’ super skills along with the physical therapists at the hospital who helped with my rehab and the years of follow-up appointments with Dr. Millis. I am even able to run (shh, don’t tell that to anyone because, technically, I’m not supposed to) and I do yoga! Anyone who knew me before the surgery knew that even crossing my legs Indian-style was difficult for me to do. My hope is to be able to remain active and avoid a total hip replacement when I’m older. It astounds me to think that without Dr. Millis, I might have had a hip replaced at age 13 (that was the only other option at that time).
I’ve come very far physically but that’s not the only way my life has been impacted by Children’s Hospital Boston. I was so inspired by all the people at Children’s that when I went to college in Boston, I volunteered at the hospital, to give back to the place that has given me so much. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in public health to continue to be able to give back and make sure everyone receives the same great care that I was so privileged to have.
So while my scars have faded, the memories and influences from Children’s will always be in my heart. Thank you, Dr. Millis and everyone at Children’s for being the best!