Unexpected consequence from hip surgery: Uneven limbs

FRESNO, Calif.

Chuck Westendorf had a huge difference in the length of his legs just after a total hip replacement surgery; imagine a 1 ½ inch difference in his limbs.

"I knew I couldn't live like that," Chuck told ABC30.

He's not alone. Studies show leg length inequalities are a preventable mistake that account for nearly five percent of all medical errors.

"It's a growing problem and a growing surgical procedure," Henry Finn, MD, FACS, Chief of Surgery at Weiss Memorial Hospital, Medical Director of the Chicago Center for Orthopedics at Weiss, and professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Chicago, told ABC30.

Hip revisionist Dr. Henry Finn says about a third of hip replacement patients will have an obvious difference in lengths, which may lead to hip and back pain.

His best advice is to know your surgeons level of experience and ask the right questions.

"What do they do to assure that their leg lengths are going to be as close as possible?" Dr. Finn said.

He also says that if there is a problem, early intervention is critical.

Chuck came to see Dr. Finn just a few weeks after his surgery at another hospital.

"The leg is over lengthened, the femur is pushed down," Dr. Finn said.

"I feel just blessed being able to have an opportunity to live a normal day," Chuck said.

"It's overwhelming. It brings tears to our eyes every time. We just feel like we owe his life to Dr. Finn for what he did for him," Gwen Westendorf, Chuck's wife, told ABC30.

Now, he's free to walk tall again.

In some cases, a heel lift may be all that's needed to fix a minor discrepancy in leg length. If it's an obvious difference, Dr. Finn recommends having revision surgery within the first six weeks if possible, so the bone hasn't had a chance to fuse.

Other complications from hip replacement surgery include chronic back pain, shoulder pain, hip dislocation, and sciatica -- that can make standing or sitting nearly impossible.

For more information, contact:

Caren Perlmuter
Marketing & Community Outreach
University of Chicago, Weiss Memorial Hospital
(773) 564-5670

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.