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Hips & Salsa: Rich Kimmich’s story

Rich Kimmich2/25/15 — Hip Replacement at St. Mary’s has optometrist dancing for joy

In January 2014, optometrist Dr. Richard Kimmich began the year the same way he had begun many years before: battling hip pain. Sometimes it was so intense he had to sit down and rest between his office at Advanced Eye Care of Oconee and his car.

Fast-forward one year. Rich began 2015 dancing. He is practicing a Salsa routine that he and dance partner Barbara Benson will present April 18 at the 8th annual Project Safe Dancing with the Athens Stars competition.

What made the difference? A hip replacement at St. Mary’s Health Care System.

“My entire experience with the hospital was wonderful. My entire experience with my surgeon was wonderful,” Rich says. “You don’t have to go to Atlanta for quality hip replacement. You don’t have to go to England. You don’t need to leave this town.”

An old familiar ache

Back in the late 1990s. Rich was enjoying life, raising his daughter, practicing optometry, staying active. But as he neared 50, the cartilage inside his right hip thinned. Bone began scraping against bone. He blames it on the wear-and-tear of intense physical activity without today’s joint-sparing equipment. “I grew up in the no-pain, no-gain generation,” he says.

As the pain grew worse, he applied his medical training to researching his options. Local surgeons warned him that he was too young for a full hip replacement; it would wear out too soon. He concluded that his best option was a new process called hip resurfacing. The trouble was, the procedure wasn’t approved in America. He packed his bags and his walker and traveled to Birmingham, England.

“Thirteen years later, that hip is still good,” he says. But there was another problem. “When I got back, I couldn’t get insurance. They said I had a pre-existing condition.”

Six or seven years ago, all-too-familiar pain started flaring in his left hip. At first, he had good days and bad days. Slowly, the bad days increased. He kept doing what he could. About two years ago, the good days all but disappeared. The only time he didn’t hurt was when he took a pain reliever and laid down.

“Often I had to use crutches. When I went shopping, I had to lean on the cart like a walker. But I didn’t want to sit alone at home, hurting, so I picked activities that were worth doing through the pain. And what I really wanted to do was dance. It hurt like heck and I could hardly walk afterwards, but I would go and be with people until I hurt so much I had to go home.”

A transformative change

A disheartening vacation with his college-age daughter brought home how disabled Rich had become, but with no insurance, what could he do? It looked like his only option was to keep working through the pain until Medicare kicked in.

And then the Affordable Care Act passed, and insurance companies were required to provide coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Rich applied for and received a policy. He threw himself into researching his options.

“I liked what I saw,” he says. “I was very impressed by Dr. John Manfredi. I was very impressed by St. Mary’s and its standing and record with hip replacement. I was impressed by the quality, efficiency and speed of recovery. I realized I could get world-class care right here in my own city.”

On January 27, 2014, Rich had his left hip replaced at St. Mary’s.

“Dr. Manfredi told me, ‘That was a terrible hip’,” Rich says. “I had been bone-on-bone for two years. The cartilage was completely gone. All of a sudden, I was pain-free. I didn’t need any pain medication after my first day post-surgery.”

He went home after three days, receiving physical therapy from St. Mary’s Home Health Care Services. Three weeks later, he returned to work. And three months after his surgery, he was cleared for full activity. The only restrictions: no running, and if something hurt, stop.

Rich returned pain-free to the things he loves: bicycling (including a ride to Hartwell), water-skiing, scuba diving and, most importantly, dancing – the activity that provided exercise, fun and social contact during the rough years.

Just eight months after his surgery, one of his patients urged him to go public with his success. She challenged him to compete in Dancing with the Athens Stars, in which he will take the Classic Center stage to raise awareness and funds for Project Safe’s work to end domestic violence.

“I thought, ‘It might be fun.’ I would have the opportunity to get free dance lessons, do a little good for a good cause, embarrass myself on stage, and have a good time with it.” He signed on.

Project Safe paired him with dance instructor Barbara Benson. They chose the Salsa – “It’s a pretty energetic dance; very upbeat” – and began practicing every Wednesday with SalsAthens at Little Kings Shuffle Club.

“I don’t care if we win,” Rich admits. “I’m just happy to be able to move. I feel better than I have in 10 years. I’m having the time of my life.”

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St. Mary’s provides a full continuum of joint replacement care, including surgical services, home health care, outpatient rehabilitation, and lifelong maintenance. In a related area, St. Mary’s is certified by the Joint Commission in total knee replacement surgery.

For more information, visit St. Mary’s Orthopedics page or call our Physician Referral Line at 706.389.3892.

To vote in Dancing with the Athens Stars, click here.