At OSC, they call him ‘the bionic man.’ All told, Don Hollomon has had neck fusion, both knees replaced and hip replacement. As Dr. McFarland describes it, “Each of those procedures puts metal in your body – metal knees, metal hip and a plate and screws in his neck. He’ll be patted down every time he tries to fly.”
Despite having all those procedures, which also include a rotator cuff repair, today Don Holloman describes his physical condition this way: “When I was young, there were 600 things I could do – and I did them all, including marathon running. Now, with all these reparative operations, I can do 400. I don’t worry about the 200 I lost – I concentrate on the 400 I can still do and thank OSC every day for them!”
At 65, he includes running in the 200 things he no longer does; but among the 400 he continues to do are climbing up on the roof, cutting the grass – and zip-lining: strapping himself into a parachute harness and sliding down a line at a speed approaching 30mph, at a hundred feet above the ground. “It’s quite thrilling,” he says.
“Don’s one of those guys who’s always been very active,” Dr. McFarland notes, “and he’s worn out his joints because of it. He’s got a lot of arthritis.” His initial visit to OSC was for rotator cuff issues. “I was in really bad pain,” Don remembers. “I did some research and got a recommendation, and saw Dr. Coleman. He checked it out and did the repair.”
Some time after that surgery, Don began experiencing significant pain in his neck – so significant, he recalls, “that I literally thought I was going to die. I had muscles that weren’t working in my arm, numbness and tingling, and excruciating pain. I even began redoing my will, I was so convinced I wasn’t going to make it.”
Don admits he put off visiting any physician until he could tolerate no more, but when he saw Dr. McFarland in January of 2008, the surgeon described a procedure that would eliminate his pain: a bilateral cervical fusion. “He made it sound as simple as a tonsillectomy,” Don says. “He assured me it would take care of all my pain. And it did.”
Once his neck was resolved, Don was able to concentrate on the growing pain in his knees. “At one point, I couldn’t get my knee in the car without physically grabbing my leg. I went back to Dr. McFarland,” who immediately recognized the bone-on-bone pain syndrome and told Don he needed to have both of his knees replaced. Having heard what he calls “horror stories” about knee replacement recuperation, Don knew he didn’t want to go through that twice. He told Dr. McFarland he wanted both done at the same time.
Bilateral knee replacement is a very rare surgery, Dr. McFarland says. “We do it only 3 or 4 times a year. It’s really for patients who are medically healthy, and who will be aggressive about therapy. It’s a much, much tougher recovery, and there can be complications with bilateral knees if people aren’t motivated to do the work. But with Don, I had no doubts. He’s a former military man; he’s tough and he’s very strong – and he’s got a good support system at home. I had no doubt he’d push right through it.”
“I remember the most important thing Dr. McFarland said to me,” Don says. “He told me that after the operation, there’d be nothing I could do to break my knees. That took away all my limiting factors.” Following the surgery in May 2008, Don stayed in the hospital three days. He acknowledges the recovery was painful, but entirely manageable.
He very quickly returned to an active lifestyle, but by 2010, Don realized the pain in his hip had become an impediment. His visit to OSC resulted in another pioneering procedure: in August, he became the first patient in Virginia to undergo a hip replacement – as an outpatient. “The direct anterior muscle-sparing approach made this surgery possible,” Dr. McFarland explains. “The procedure had become so minimally-invasive, and our anesthesiologists so effective at controlling post-operative pain – and of course, considering Don’s recuperative history – that I was convinced there was no reason he’d need to stay overnight in the hospital.”
Don remembers the day well: “They put my foot in a boot, and put me on a special table so Dr. McFarland could go in to my hip through the front. He didn’t cut anything but skin – so much better going in through the back of the hip with all the muscles that would have to be cut. Afterward, I had zero pain in the hip.” And best of all: “Later that day, the therapist asked if I could stand and walk a bit. I hadn’t taken any pain medication because I wanted to see what it would feel like after the anesthesia wore off.” Don accepted a walker from the nurse, and headed down the hall to the nurses’ station, where he surprised them by lifting the walker over his head and taking several steps. “My hip never did hurt,” he says.
Fourteen days after the surgery, he sent OSC a photo of himself walking down a set of stairs, totally disregarding the handrail. Later, he posted a video of himself, defying anyone to tell which hip had been replaced. Even Dr. McFarland had to look twice.
Not everyone has Don Hollomon’s stamina – or bravado – but today, Dr. McFarland doesn’t hesitate to offer out-patient surgery to his hip replacement patients, if he feels their health, motivation and support systems are appropriate. “It was a natural decision for Don,” he says. “He’s got that great supportive home environment, and he’s a trouper.”
It may well run in the family: several months later, Dr. McFarland replaced Don’s 87-year old mother’s hip. Janet Hollomon had had hip surgery years ago following an accident, with a resulting 5/8” shortening of her leg. Not only did the surgeon replace her hip, he realigned her leg and corrected the shortening within 2-3 millimeters. Today, she walks without a cane, without a walker – and without a limp.
Dr. McFarland isn’t surprised at her result. “Each patient is an individual,” he says. “The procedures themselves are pretty straightforward – you go through the same steps as surgeons to implant the devices each time – but a lot of how patients recover is based on how they follows our directions after the surgery. Some patients don’t necessarily comply with everything we want them to do, and that can impact their outcome.”
He adds, “I typically don’t take patients to surgery unless I really feel that that they need surgery, and unless I really feel they’re healthy enough or compliant enough to have a really good outcome. At OSC, we want to see people do well – we want to see them happy. There are a lot of other options for patients we know aren’t going to have that type of outcome, so more than anything, I have a more conservative philosophy when it comes to surgery.”
As for ‘the bionic man,’ he has a message for anyone who’s been living with arthritic or orthopedic pain. “There’s no reason to suffer,” Don Hollomon says. “Don’t be afraid, and above all, don’t put it off.”