The past nine years of Bob Stewart’s life are a collection of horrifying medical procedures, ameliorated only by a supportive family and positive attitude.
Since 2008, the commercial real estate broker has had eight hip surgeries and fought off life-threatening infections four times. Today, he walks with a cane, which he jokingly calls “my fashionable walking stick.” And while it’s not obvious from the way he moves, he has no left hip.
An X-ray image, which Stewart carries on his cellphone, clearly shows the absence of a ball and socket at his left hip. The femur bone stops several inches short of where the hip socket once was. The blunt ends are tenuously held in place by muscle and tissue that have grown around them.
Doctors tell the 64-year-old Stewart that after five failed hip replacements, inserting another new joint is too dangerous. But a New York specialist also told him that he is in better shape than 95 percent of people with similar conditions.
Stewart’s problems began in 2008 when, at the age of 57, he was told the pain in his left hip was arthritis and would eventually require a hip replacement. When the pain became unbearable, he had hip replacement surgery in November 2008.
“I did fine for about a year and a half. Then, all of a sudden, the pain came back,” Stewart said.
His surgeon at the time said he was fine. Stewart tried acupuncture and physical therapy and saw pain and nerve specialists. But nothing helped. After five months, his family doctor recommended the Mayo Clinic, where Stewart was told he’d been given a bad part during the first surgery. The replacement joint was emitting cobalt into his system. Left in place, it would eventually kill him.
Surgery was scheduled for the following month, and in February 2011 Stewart had a second hip replacement at Mayo.
Things got back to normal until early 2013 when “out of the blue” the replacement joint dislocated twice, resulting in severe pain and prompting a third hip replacement at Mayo on May 1.
Stewart had no sooner returned to Des Moines than his family doctor ordered him back to Mayo’s emergency room, where he nearly died. This time, the problem was “a very bad staph infection,” Stewart said.
“That night, I was as low as I could get,” he added.
The next day, May 12, 2013, he underwent a fourth hip replacement and treatment for the infection. By August, Stewart was tentatively walking again. A month later bubbles appeared in the wound and he returned to Mayo, where doctors diagnosed a Candida yeast infection, removed the hip replacement and put in a temporary joint.
Stewart had just returned to work in December when the temporary joint displaced, sending him back to Mayo, where doctors discovered the yeast infection was still active.
Two more surgeries were performed in February 2014 to remove the temporary hip and to treat the infection. Stewart lost a lot of blood and had another near-death experience.
He went home on crutches, without a hip joint.
The infection returned that summer, and in September Stewart was back at Mayo for his eighth surgery, which finally stemmed the infection. By then, surgeons had determined Stewart was not a candidate for another hip replacement. He sought a second opinion in New York, where a specialist told him: “Your faith and your attitude have gotten you this far. Go home, wean yourself from the crutches, and live your life.”
Today, that’s what he’s doing. He’s back at work part time at Stanbrough Realty, enjoying life with Karen, his wife of 43 years, their three children and six grandchildren.