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Police dog handler has hip replacement surgery at age of 42

28 August 2018

Police officer, Beverly Webber, is one of only 16 explosive dog handlers based at Gatwick Airport. At one point, she was the only part-time female with two working Search Dogs in the UK. Now she suspects she is the only female police dog handler with a hip replacement.

She was so determined not to let her two gorgeous`boys’ be rehomed - Mason, a Red Fox Labrador, and Ollie, a Springer Spaniel – that she was back doing the job she loves just six weeks after her operation at nearby Spire Gatwick Park Hospital.

“It is a unique bond, they are part of the family and I couldn’t bear the thought that I could be off work for so long after the operation that they would be taken from me and retrained by someone else,” says the 42-year-old who lives near East Grinstead, West Sussex.

Not only is she back patrolling the second busiest airport in the UK with Mason and Ollie, she is also horse-riding again - something she has done since she was five years old – and, importantly, playing with her two children, a *daughter aged 12 and a son aged 10.

She finally accepted the fact she needed to have a hip replacement when her son fell off his pony.

“I went to run to help him and realised I couldn’t because it was too painful. I thought I should not be 42 and not able to help or play with my kids.”

Beverly started getting pains in her right leg and groin a couple of years ago, but she put it down to groin strain. She had physiotherapy but after a year the pain had grown worse, so she went back to the doctor and insisted on having an MRI scan. 

“I actually thought I had cancer in the bone. I was now getting shooting pains when walking and was beginning to limp. I carried on doing my job but started to struggle getting in and out of the police car. The lads at work joked that I could only turn right because of my limp.”

The MRI scan showed she had osteoarthritis of the hip and she was told she would need a hip replacement…but not for another 10 years.

Shortly after this diagnosis, Beverly had to take her annual police fitness test. Although not keen on taking medication, she dosed herself up with painkillers and passed with flying colours because “I wanted to keep my job and my dogs.”

But it was her son’s riding accident that made her realise she couldn’t wait 10 years to have something done about her hip.

She went back to see a consultant at Crawley Hospital, West Sussex, who happened to be an ex-army medical officer and completely understood that Beverley needed help.

Within a week, she had an appointment at Spire Gatwick Park Hospital, with Mr Praveen Panose, consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon. After studying the MRI scan, Mr Panose gave Beverly the option of either keyhole surgery of the hip to keep it going for some more time (a relatively new procedure for hips in sports medicine) or to have a hip replacement.

“Suddenly it was my decision, so I did lots of research. I was also given another MRI scan, so Mr Panose could compare that with the one I had 18 months ago. I was also given a steroid injection, but the pain relief lasted no more than a week and I felt worse than before.”

But when she went for her follow-up consultation with Mr Panose, the decision was taken out of her hands. The second MRI scan showed the hip had deteriorated so much that a hip replacement was the only option.

“It was a really big thing for me to come to terms with. I knew there was no going back once they had replaced my hip bone, so I wondered if I would be better off. And a big concern was the scar. I don’t have any scars on my body and so I made Mr Panose promise to make it as small as possible.”

He kept his promise and the thin pink line of scar at the top of her hip measures just 10cms.

Another fear was that she would never ride again. Before her operation on March 14 this year, Beverly hadn’t ridden for three months as it was too painful to get on and off the horse. But a few days before the surgery she forced herself to ride as she thought it would be her last.

“Before and after the operation I felt isolated as I was young to be having a hip replacement. When I went to the Hip School (a meeting of pre-op patients with a team of physios) I was the only one without a stick or not in a wheel chair. The older patients all sat together so I sat on my own at the front. I think they thought I was one of the medical team. 

“And my expectations compared with others were different. I didn’t just want to go back to pottering in the garden - I wanted to go back to doing my job and riding again.”

All Beverly’s fears were unfounded but her rapid recovery is partly due to her steely determination which kicked in almost immediately after she woke up from the operation. She was told she wouldn’t need a catheter if she could stand and go to the toilet, so she did. Then when the physio encouraged her to walk across the room, she was too fast for a Zimmer frame so was given two walking sticks straight away.

For the first week at home, her son helped her to put socks on every day and her daughter made her breakfast in bed. After the first week, she ditched her two walking sticks for one and had even attempted to muck out the stables, slowly hobbling around until a friend insisted she stopped. The pain, which had kept her awake at night before the op, stopped almost straight away and Beverly came off all medication within three weeks.

By the time she went back to work six weeks after the operation, she had repainted the horsebox trailer, jet washed the patio and cleaned all the gutters of the house. She was driving by four weeks and back to horse-riding within seven.

She admits she did too much at one point which caused her to faint at a friend’s baby shower, and during her third week she was pulled over by one of her dogs which really shook her up – “I can’t remember the last time I fell over!” she exclaims.

Now she is part of a young 'hipsters’ Facebook group and has also found a young hip `buddy’ in her village. They encourage each other and share progress reports via texts.

“I can now sit comfortably on the floor and play games with the children, something I struggled with before, and I can run a mile on the treadmill. And getting on and off a horse is no problem.”

Now, walking around Gatwick Airport with Mason and Ollie, her limp is barely perceptible as her body learns to walk normally again.

“One day I will probably have to have my left hip replaced, but this is the best thing I have ever done - it’s amazing how I have got my life back so quickly.”

Now she is gearing up for her next annual police bleep test in October.

“This time, I won’t need painkillers,” she adds.

What the surgeon says:

“Sadly, Bev’s story, whilst uncommon, is not unique. I am seeing more and more younger patients who need hip replacements. In fact, the youngest person I’ve had to replace a hip on was only 17 years old. The average hip replacement patient is above 65 years old. However, in my practice around 10% of patients are below 50. The reasons for this are many:

  • We are putting greater demands on our bodies
  • Patients are not happy to accept pain and loss of mobility and a compromised lifestyle if they can help it
  • Hip replacements continue to improve and at least theoretically are longer lasting.

Therefore, when someone is young and crippled with a diseased hip, there is no mileage in withholding joint replacement surgery from them. These are people in their prime and the sooner we can get them back to a pain free and active lifestyle, the better. In my opinion, they should not languish in pain with alternative treatments for pain that are usually temporary just because of a traditional belief that joint replacements are for the older patient.

My philosophy is to tailor my treatment to the specific needs of the individual patient. Younger patients can expect to live longer and are likely to use their artificial hip harder. I tend to use a prosthesis with a ceramic bearing which is more durable. I also modify the surgical cut to be minimally damaging and if appropriate use a shorter prosthesis which is more bone preserving. The younger patient is likely to be more active and one of the reasons for having to redo their hip replacement is that they could fracture their bone around the hip replacement. In such scenarios a shorter prosthesis will make surgical repair of the fracture or a further replacement technically easier. These are just some of the factors one has to take into consideration when treating younger patients. 

But to have a successful outcome, patients must be prepared to work closely with their physio and exercise after their surgery. Everybody recovers differently and at different time scales. Beverly’s recovery was excellent. This is what we aim for in every patient.

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