Don Healy had a childhood dream. He wanted to reach the top of Mt. Everest. But by the time he reached adulthood, Don was living the sedentary life of a business owner. When he turned 60 in May of 2005, he suddenly felt like a couch potato. “I had gone up a couple of waist sizes and I started to feel sluggish.” A year later Don began seriously working out. He shed 25 pounds and decided that by the time he reached his 65th birthday, he would scale Mt. Everest like he had always dreamed of doing. He mapped out the peaks he’d need to scale in preparation and began training in earnest.
In the spring of 2007 Don made his first journey above the tree line on a climb up Mt. Washington. Soon afterward, he ascended Mount Baker in the Northern Cascades. He continued his strength and aerobic training in preparation for a trip up Mt. Rainier in Washington State in August 2007.
Five days before the expedition up Mt. Rainier – his dream of Everest still unfulfilled – Don broke his hip in a biking accident in New Hampshire. He was 62. The day of the accident he had his hip pinned together by a local specialist rather than having it replaced. After nine weeks on crutches, his leg wasn’t improving. He sought the help of a surgeon near his home in New York City who recommended a hip replacement. Don had one question – could he still climb afterwards?
“When I mentioned mountain climbing, the surgeon winced. He told me that following a hip replacement I should forget about climbing and that I probably wouldn’t be able to squat.” Don returned to his Greenwich Village home discouraged. “That was one of the most depressing days of my life.” Don looked to his cousin – a physician in Cleveland – for guidance. “He told me to get a second opinion and to call Thomas Sculco, MD, surgeon-in-chief at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.” Later the same day, Don was out to dinner when Dr. Sculco’s name came up again. Having heard the surgeon’s name twice in the course of two hours, Don decided to make an appointment with him.
As luck would have it, Dr. Sculco had a cancellation in his schedule and was able to see Don right away. “He looked at my X-rays and examined me and said, yes, I would be able to climb after a hip replacement. And, of course, I’d be able to squat, too.”
Two weeks after his meeting with Dr. Sculco, Don underwent surgery. During the total hip replacement, the cup-shaped hip socket and the ball of the thighbone were replaced with a ceramic ball and titanium stem and a socket. Within a day, he was walking with a cane and working with a physical therapist. After 14 days of therapy, Don was taking short walks around the block. Soon he was adding training to his physical therapy sessions. “I would complete my therapy and then stay for an extra hour and work on my upper body strength to maintain my fitness.” After 42 days, Dr. Sculco lifted his hip precautions. “He said, ‘You are free to do whatever you want.’ At first I didn’t feel comfortable trying to do too much so I paced myself.” 90 days following his surgery, Don resumed climbing and scaled the Gros Piton, an elevation of 2,600 feet in St. Lucia in the Caribbean. “My hip was fine.”
Several weeks later he made it up Mt. Adams in New Hampshire. After that – within a year of his accident – he climbed Mount Rainier. “My broken hip made me more determined than ever. I wanted to demonstrate that neither age nor physical setbacks need to limit one’s goals.”
In 2009, he reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania followed by Denali in Alaska. Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, is a requirement before attempting Everest. In May 2010, Don Healy became one of the oldest Americans to reach the top of Mt. Everest and is believed to be the first person to achieve this with a hip replacement. “Even though Dr. Sculco said I’d be able to make the climb, I think even he was surprised to learn that I had done it.”This outcome is specific to this patient. Results can vary based on each individual patient and situation.