Hip replacements for JRA: how young is too young?

WGEM News at Five
Updated: Aug. 3, 2022 at 5:03 PM CDT
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CHICAGO, Ill. (WGEM) --- Is 14 too young for a hip replacement? About 300 thousand kids in the United States have juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It is an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system malfunctions and attacks the joints. Treatments and medications may help some kids, but for others a more drastic option may be the only way to get long-lasting relief.

Despite her age, 19-year-old Emily Wegmann knows a lot about joint pain. At two she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. By 10, she was bone-on-bone on her left hip.

Emily explains, “I couldn’t even get myself dressed. I couldn’t do my hair. I couldn’t get myself to walk into school.”

Medications and steroids worked for short periods of time, but flare ups held Wegmann back during childhood.

Emily says, “Seeing my friends go out and me trying to keep up with them was very hard.”

Craig J. Della Valle, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush says, “Her arthritis was so aggressive that it was actually damaging her acetabulum on her hip socket.”

She developed an uneven leg length, which caused more pain in her knees, feet, and back. At 14, doctors recommended that Wegmann have a hip replacement and it worked. With new modern materials for hip replacements, her hip can last a really long time.

Dr. Valle explains, “It’s possible that this could last her longer than 20 years, 30, 40, 50 years and hopefully her lifetime.”

So far five years in, her right hip is still going strong. And she got her left hip replaced the summer before she started her freshman year of college.

Emily says, “Ever since then, I have been able to live like a normal teenager would.”

And truly enjoy her college experience pain-free.

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis may not only affect the joints, it can also cause inflammation in the eyes, lungs, heart, liver, and other organs.

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