For a runner like Tom Tellier, a big race is all about preparation and training.

When it came time to face hip replacement surgery, he took the same approach.

“I’ve been a runner since high school,” Tellier, 56, said. “I used to run cross-country and I’ve kept up with it lifelong. I was doing 5K races, but then one morning, as I was running around Reed Lake, the pain just wouldn’t stop.”

That was four years ago.

Tellier met with his primary care physician, also a runner, who suggested he give physical therapy a try.

“I did that for a while, then tried to continue running,” Tellier said. “But it still hurt too much.”

Tellier’s doctor referred him to C. Christopher Sherry, DO, a Spectrum Health orthopedic total joint replacement surgeon who specializes in joint replacement surgery.

Tellier made an appointment in December 2017. Dr. Sherry ordered a set of X-rays, which revealed Tellier had arthritis.

Arthritis that wouldn’t quit.

“It got worse,” Tellier said. “But I wasn’t ready. Dr. Sherry said it was up to me when I wanted the surgery, but I wasn’t prepared.”

Finding a way

As an associate engineer of operations for the Michigan Department of Transportation, Tellier knows the inherent value of meticulously developing a deep understanding of a situation.

He applied those traits to his own health, if only to be well-prepared.

But the increasing pain in his left hip didn’t allow for repeat delays of surgery.

In August 2018, Tellier went back to see Dr. Sherry. When he walked into the surgeon’s office, Dr. Sherry wasn’t surprised.

“So are you ready?” the surgeon asked.

Tellier felt ready.

Dr. Sherry sent him to Renee Overbeck, BSN, ONC, a total joint replacement patient educator at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital.

“Tom and his wife attended the two-hour class I teach about how to prepare for joint replacement surgery, what to expect during recovery and how to prevent complications,” Overbeck said.

Overbeck also has a physical therapist talk to the class about exercises to perform before and after surgery. They discuss the types of equipment patients can use, too.

Most importantly, patients come to understand that joint replacement surgery is a common medical procedure that is extremely safe.

“Complications are rare, but we talk about how to prevent infection, blood clots, or hip dislocation,” Overbeck said.

Feeling adequately prepared for the task ahead, Tellier decided to move forward.

“Renee was great,” he said. “She was so organized. She even helped work out the time I needed off with my employer to heal. All the information she gave us in class proved to be accurate.”

A new journey

It would be Tellier’s first experience with surgery, but he found himself reassured at how everything came together seamlessly.

It eased his worries and turned the day of surgery into a positive experience. Tellier said he even appreciated the valet that met him and his wife at the hospital door to park their car.

“Although I felt a bit guilty,” Tellier admits. “Surgery was scheduled just before Thanksgiving 2018, but even so, the nurses were all very accommodating.”

When the Zeeland resident woke in the recovery room afterward, he felt no pain.

Not then, not later.

“Everything Dr. Sherry said came true,” he said. “I had some swelling in my leg, but that was it. I did get a little stir crazy for a bit, but three weeks later, I was able to attend my work Christmas party. And four weeks later I was back at work.”

The one activity Tellier did have to give up: running.

He found Dr. Sherry quite understanding of that twinge of sadness at giving up a lifelong pursuit.

“I get it,” Dr. Sherry said. “I was a runner, too, up into my 30s. That’s when I felt it in my knees. Now I recommend against high-impact sports such as marathon running to my patients. I recommend low-impact sports such as biking and walking.”

As for the time allowed for recovery, Dr. Sherry advises against looking at that as a race.

Everyone is different, he said, and everyone heals at their own pace.

The important thing is to keep moving—and to enjoy the journey.