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John Epstein: Beebe Hip Replacement Surgery Put Me in Remission and Back on My Feet

John Epstein would be the first person to tell you not to feel sorry for him.

He’s lived Hawaii, has three sons, a loving wife, and two big dogs. Together, they’ve found their perfect spot on the East Coast in Lewes.

He’s also battled colon cancer three times, grew up in poverty, and dealt with off-and-on paralysis from the waist down for the last 10 years.

“My tagline for years has been: I’m immortal until proven otherwise. Life has thrown all kinds of different stuff at me,” John says, walking down the Lewes-Georgetown Trail with his wife, Laura, and their two dogs, Bella and Shiro, a German Shepherd and an Akita. “I’ve adopted a positive mental attitude toward life. I believe that the more good beliefs I have, the better things happen.”

It’s one of those little things that he enjoys now that he is walking again.

Before his hip replacement surgery at Beebe, John was in a wheelchair, but not from his hip issues. In 2010, he went to get out of bed and fell. His legs were paralyzed. For years, he saw doctors trying to find the correct diagnosis before he moved to Delaware, slowly regaining some strength in his legs.

John wouldn’t find out until later, but he has a condition called Arachnoiditis, which is a pain disorder caused by inflammation in the nerves of the spinal cord. There is no pattern to the symptoms, and it can go into remission, which allowed John to walk with a limp when he moved to Delaware in 2015, and in the fall of 2017, he became assistant principal at Milford High School.

By the New Year, the pain and tingling had John back in a wheelchair, but it even hurt to sit, so he went and saw Joseph Farrell, DO, board certified orthopaedic surgeon with Orthopaedics Associates of Southern Delaware, P.A.

John felt a trusting connection with Dr. Farrell right away: “He really cared about me as a person. The first visit we had, we spent an hour together.”

A new hip and getting his feet under him

There were no promises that this hip replacement surgery would get John out of a wheelchair, Dr. Farrell told John, but it would take away the pain in his hip.

John had a hairline fracture in the hip, which normally calls for screws rather than a replacement surgery, but Dr. Farrell thought the screws wouldn’t hold up and suggested the replacement surgery since it was more durable and more likely to last in his lifespan.

When John and Laura got to Beebe on his surgery day, a person as familiar with healthcare systems as John is, he was impressed.

“Having been to two, Level 1 trauma centers, my experience at Beebe is on par if not a little bit better in terms of the treatment I got, the care I received, and the concern to make sure there weren’t any mistakes,” he says. “All the things that I’ve seen at other hospitals were in place and with a smile at Beebe that made me feel good in regards to both the surgery, post-surgical care that I received there, the follow-up phone calls from the nursing staff. The work with the OT and PT, it was just fabulous.”

What was even more remarkable, John was up and walking after surgery and physical rehabilitation, a feat which Dr. Farrell himself called amazing.

It’s hard to medically say why the surgery helped John’s Arachnoiditis, but Dr. Farrell said it could have been because he couldn’t walk upright because of the hip pain. Now with that pain alleviated, Dr. Farrell said it likely allowed the nerves around his spine to calm down and possibly go into remission.

“I just consider myself so fortunate,” John says. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to walk again. It’s incurable, thinking this is what your life is going to be. I consider myself so fortunate that even though I’ve lived through some painful moments in regards to how my body is, here I am walking.”

John also appreciated the support of the Beebe nursing staff, for allowing him to push himself with walking.

“The folks at Beebe really responded to my positive mental attitude,” he says. “They treated me as an individual and that’s not been the case many times in my life when I’ve been at other places.”

“I think it changes their outcome not just their perception,” says Dr. Farrell. “The nurses at Beebe are fantastic. I can trust my patients are looked after well. It makes all the difference in the world to a patient if they are cared for and not just a number.”

Living life back at 6-foot-1

Back on the trail with Laura and their two dogs, John enjoys the warmth of the sun.

The trails and nature were one of the many draws that attracted the couple to the area. A wheelchair was never going to stop that. Even when he wasn’t able to walk, he was out hand-cycling.

And even now, John is unsure if the debilitating pain will return.

That’s something he’s OK with. He’ll enjoy the moments living at 6-foot-1 while he can.

“The fact that I can walk, the fact that I’m 6-foot-1 again as opposed to 3-foot-1 in my wheelchair, opens up the whole world of cabinets and driving that were, for a while, off limits for me,” he says.

He’s able to drive up to Staten Island to teach college students elementary prep in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics). He can play pickleball upright. Every day that he and Laura can do something together is a gift, he says.

And with that attitude, the mentality won’t change whatever the future may hold.

“Whatever is going on with him, he’s always going to figure out a way,” Laura says.

“The remission is spontaneous and unknown in regards to its duration,” John said. “So how I look at it is, not that we’ve experienced all the negatives things that someone can have in life, but I what I know from the core essence of every particle that I am, that my wife and I will find a way to make it through anything that happens.”

Learn more about Dr. Farrell and Orthopaedic Associates: 302-644-3311.

Learn more about orthopaedic surgery at Beebe: www.beebehealthcare.org/ortho.