Former Soccer Player’s Battle with Pain
Ends after Hip Replacement Surgery at Palos
Ivan Simic says playing professional soccer took a toll on his body. After years of pain, he had hip replacement surgery at Palos in 2013 and is amazed by how much better he feels. “It’s amazing. Every morning I wake up and I’m ready to go.”
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Ivan Simic played soccer “all of his life,” starting professionally at age 15 for a first division team in Croatia before moving on to play for the Canadian Soccer League and ending his career with Red White Blue Adria Chicago. Over time, the years took their toll on Ivan’s body.
“When I married him, his legs were so muscular we couldn’t find tuxedo pants that would fit him. He had mammoth legs,” says Esther Simic, Ivan’s wife of 22 years. “I married this extremely healthy guy, and then he went downhill.”
Ivan says his “body took a beating” while playing soccer, from bone injuries to knee issues to shattered teeth. He endured multiple surgeries over the years that left him not wanting to go through any more, but the pain didn’t stop. It started with a bum knee, which caused him to start limping. Then the pain extended to his hip, spine and neck.
“It was pretty scary,” explains Ivan, 57, of Palos Park. “For about 10 years, I basically didn’t move. I was in immense pain. My body was shot. Just walking was painful.”
In 2012, Ivan’s family physician, Dr. Jeffrey Schiappa, referred him to Steven Wardell, M.D., a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon affiliated with Palos Community Hospital, where he performs hundreds of joint replacement procedures a year. Dr. Wardell diagnosed Ivan with severe end-stage osteoarthritis, a disease that slowly degrades the cartilage that provides cushion to the bones of the hip and knee joints. The more degraded the cartilage is, the more severe joint pain becomes.
“Degenerative joint pain often develops gradually,” explains Dr. Wardell, “The problem may start as a mild ache or stiffness in the joint, but as the condition progresses it can begin to impair a person’s mobility, such as in the case of Ivan.”
Dr. Wardell recommended a total right hip arthoplasty to replace diseased and damaged portions of Ivan’s hip joint with an implant, but Ivan wasn’t ready to undergo surgery. He worried about the time he would need to be off from his job as a property manager. Instead, he opted for a steroid injection in his right hip and a prescription for an anti-inflammatory medication, which helped for a while.
Dr. Wardell says the treatment of hip pain is intended to alleviate symptoms and improve a patient’s level of functioning in the least invasive manner as possible. “With appropriate medical management, many patients can successfully control their symptoms for years. However, when the pain starts affecting your health and quality of life despite nonsurgical treatment, then it may be time to consider joint replacement.”
Ivan spent the next year and a half trying to cope with his pain and became increasingly depressed. It became so debilitating Esther was dropping Ivan off curbside when they went shopping. Once inside, he could only walk an aisle or two before stopping.
“It was unbearable,” he says. “I was using painkillers almost every day. I was on high blood pressure pills because of the pain. I would worry about the day ahead of me and being able to complete the tasks I needed to do. I was mentally crushed.”
Even though Ivan was against the idea of surgery, he knew it was inevitable. “Dr. Wardell told me when I’m ready, he’s ready,” Ivan says.
In December 2013, Ivan went back to Dr. Wardell, who told him he had no choice but to have the surgery. Dr. Wardell explained the procedure and showed Ivan the implant. “I’ll never forget the feeling of touching the ceramic ball. It was seamless; no resistance,” he says. “I knew I was in good hands. Dr. Wardell was comforting, and that increased my confidence in having the surgery.”
On Christmas Eve, Ivan underwent a hip replacement. The Simic family not only spent the evening celebrating the holiday, with Esther bringing in a Christmas tree, but also the end of Ivan’s long battle with pain. “When I woke, all the pain was gone. It was like it was never there. I still can’t believe it,” he says. “My surgery was the best Christmas gift I’ve ever had.”
More than 600 hip and knee replacements were performed at Palos last year. From minimally invasive surgery, computer-aided prosthetic placement and advances in pain management, joint replacement surgery is being performed at Palos with a high degree of precision, minimal pain and a significantly decreased recovery time.
“The benefits of minimally invasive hip surgery includes reduced procedure time, significantly less pain, minimal muscle involvement and quicker recovery times,” explains Dr. Wardell. “The goal of joint replacement is to replicate each person’s unique anatomic structure as closely as possible, which can enhance recovery, comfort and outcomes.”
Once home, Ivan followed up with Palos Community Hospital’s Home Health program. In a matter of weeks, he was back to a normal level of functioning. He completed 12 sessions of therapy, working out like the athlete he is. “By the third or fourth therapy session, I was already biking three or four miles,” he says. “You have to push yourself. If I was told to repeat an exercise 20 times, I’d make it 25 times.”
Ivan and Esther are now back to their favorite hobby, golfing three or four times a week.
“If I knew it would be like that, I would have done it a long time ago. But I always say things happen for a reason. It was the right time and I couldn’t have asked for a better result. I feel like I’m in my 30s again,” Ivan says. “It’s amazing. Every morning I wake up and I’m ready to go.”
Esther can’t believe the transformation either, beaming “I’ve got a new guy now.”