There is something special about a “Second First” when you’ve taken your first for granted. My name is Valerie, and I don’t remember the first time I danced, swam or walked with confidence. In fact, up until two years ago, I did all of those things without a thought.
Then, I began to experience sharp pains in my groin area and started walking with a limp and tilt. The pain was intense and worsened when I exercised. I didn’t tell anyone what I was going through, not even my family because I didn’t want anyone to worry about me.
My sister is a breast cancer survivor, and I remember her asking me to do the Susan G. Komen walk last year. I did not know how I was going to walk, but in my mind I knew it was possible. The pain was hard to bear, but I did the walk, because I didn’t want to disappoint her. Every step was excruciating, but with my sister by my side, I reached the finish line. At the end, she knew something was wrong, so I broke down and told her about my pain. It was then that I knew I needed to seek professional care.
My active lifestyle was placed on hold, because I didn’t know what was happening to me. For most of my life I was an athlete, competing in track and field events during my high school and college years. And, as president and CEO of Cor-Les Institute, a health education and promotion nonprofit organization and national training center, I dedicated my life to spreading a message of health and wellness within inner-city communities throughout our nation.
I thought of all those people in my Washington, D.C. community who looked up to me and who I encouraged to live a healthy lifestyle. It was now my time to set an example and fight for my mobility, a major part of healthy living and everything that I stand for.
I was referred to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Anthony S. Unger at Washington Orthopedic Sports Medicine, who explained that I had labral hip tears and recommended a total hip replacement. I started to cry, because I would have never imagined that I needed a hip replacement at 53 years old.
As my recollection of days when I was able to walk without pain quickly became a distant memory, I desperately wanted to experience actively living my life again. Dr. Unger explained the anterior hip replacement procedure in detail and in a calm and reassuring voice stated, “I will take care of you.” Although I was nervous, at that moment, I knew everything would be okay. One of my requests was to be tall again. My original height was 5-foot-10-inches, but due to severe body tilting, I was much shorter.
I ended up having anterior bilateral hip replacement, and two and a half days later, I walked out of the hospital. I was back at work and driving in two-and-a-half weeks. I followed through with five weeks of outpatient therapy and started distance walking at three months post-surgery at 1.5 miles.
Today, nine months post-surgery, I am stronger, taller and walking five to six miles, five days a week. My life has been restored, and I am dancing again. I have not looked back, and I’m excited about the future. My key to success was my faith in God, setting realistic expectations and surrounding myself with a lot of love from family and friends. I also trusted my surgeon and I went into surgery as healthy and strong as possible. I continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I eat a plant-based diet, take natural supplements and have weekly acupuncture sessions.
When I visited Dr. Unger for a follow-up this past summer, I came across two simple words: “Second First,” an initiative described as a point in time when an individual who has lost the ability to do something because of an orthopedic condition can do so again thanks to musculoskeletal care.
Those words captivated me. They perfectly summarized my journey over the past year. I may not have remembered all my firsts, but as I fought to regain mobility, I knew that I would not forget my precious “Second Firsts.”