Not many 16-year-olds need a hip replacement, but for Ben Moncrieff – a former Australian junior baseball representative – this ‘last resort’ has provided hope for a better future.
After years of chronic pain caused by a rare blood condition, Ben is now looking forward to becoming “a normal teen" following life-changing surgery at Perth’s Mount Hospital.
“I wasn’t able to tie my shoes before, but I can do that now,” he said, after becoming one of the youngest people in Western Australia to undergo such an operation.
At the age of six, he was diagnosed with Perthes disease, which causes the thigh bone to deteriorate due to a lack of blood supply. For most afflicted children, the effects can be mild and the bone regrows after two or three years – but Ben ended up needing full-time crutches, a wheelchair, and drugs to cope with the pain.
“Even if in a wheelchair, or lying in bed, he would be in a lot of pain,” his mother Lisa Moncrieff said. “Ben was told he would never play sport, nor represent his country again. But he’s always had a wonderful, positive attitude and never complains."
After years of frustration trying various treatments, the Moncrieff family met with Mount Hospital orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ian Skinner.
“I haven’t seen anyone with such a severe case of the disease as Ben,” Dr Skinner said. “He developed severe problems, including osteoarthritis and the collapse of the femoral head. He was in a bad way in terms of his ability to get on with life.”
Given Ben’s young age, and his desire to play sport again, Dr Skinner recommended a ‘dual-mobility’ hip replacement, which is more stable than the usual implant and has less risk of dislocation.
“It’s an unusual situation for a 16-year-old to require a hip replacement. It was performed as a last resort, after a great deal of searching for what else could be done to improve Ben’s quality of life,” he said. “The alternative for him would have been committing him to a very different life: chronic pain, narcotic analgesia and a significantly reduced range of motion.”
A week and a half after the surgery, Ben was able to walk without crutches. He has a long recovery ahead, but next year he hopes to return to school full-time, for the first time since Year Nine, and he has some new sporting goals to achieve.
“While playing baseball is still a dream, I would really like to pursue wheelchair basketball, as I’ve made the state team.
"I just want the life of a normal teen. I’m very excited to start senior high next year and get back into a routine. Most of the other treatments didn’t work very well. This is the first one that’s given me hope,” he said.