Dr. Kevin Stroh, a podiatrist from Lodi, Calif., saw his active lifestyle grind to a halt when arthritis destroyed both his hips. A search for the best orthopaedic surgeon he could find led Stroh to the office of Dr. Thomas Vail, chair of Orthopaedic Surgery at UCSF. Although Vail's recommendation to get a double hip replacement wasn't what Stroh had hoped to hear, the surgery gave him his adventurous lifestyle back.
Why did you need hip replacements?
I have an extremely rare and destructive form of arthritis. Within eight months of diagnosis it had destroyed both my hips. The pain made life difficult. I'm a super-active guy. I love to rock climb, mountain bike, skate, ski and work out at the gym. Being active means the world to me, so this slowed me down quite a bit.
What led you to UCSF?
I'm a doctor and I regularly refer patients to UCSF. I know patients with complicated health problems will get state-of-the-art care. So when I became the patient, UCSF was one of the first places I considered.
Why did you pick Dr. Vail?
I'm not only a doctor but also a surgeon. You can only imagine how picky I am about choosing someone to operate on me! I did a lot of research to find the best surgeon. I narrowed it down to two choices, including Dr. Vail. What I liked about Dr. Vail was that he had lots of surgical experience, he'd done research in the field and he teaches medical students, which I imagine keeps his skills sharp.
When I met him in person, he didn't disappoint. He exuded confidence. He answered all of my questions. He looked at my situation and gave me his recommendation, even though it wasn't what I'd hoped for. When I pushed back, he didn't second-guess himself. He was confident that he knew exactly how to fix me. I left that meeting knowing he was the right surgeon for me.
What was your experience at UCSF?
I knew I wanted the whole package — a top-notch medical facility with a skilled surgeon — and UCSF delivered. The comprehensive care was outstanding. I attended the class for joint-replacement patients, where I learned exactly what to expect in the hospital and during my recovery. Those were invaluable.
As a physician, I'm a freak about hospital cleanliness. I was hospitalized for three days at UCSF and I watched every practitioner who came into my room like a hawk. Never once was there a forgotten hand washing or donning of gloves. With every task, no matter now trivial, everyone was diligent about hygiene and sterile technique. Those things make such a huge difference in patient infection rates.
I was so impressed that I later wrote a letter to the director of nursing, complimenting the staff's thoroughness.
How was your outcome?
One month later, I was back at the gym and six weeks post-surgery, I was back on a mountain bike. I've already been skiing 10 times this winter. Not only did I get my life back, I got my sense of adventure back and that means the world to me.
Interviewed February 2013 by Catherine Guthrie
To read an interview with Dr. Vail, click here.