Determination and attitude spur cyclist’s ride to good health

Joleen Trujillo, 66, has had many opportunities to surrender to debilitating health issues, yet she has persevered and still works hard to overcome her obstacles.

A mother of two sons and grandmother to eight, the Albuquerque resident has battled multiple sclerosis (MS) for the past 28 years.

“I have relapsing-remitting MS,” explained Trujillo. “I suppose that if you're going to have MS, this is the best kind to have, as I can still walk well.” Patients with this type of MS also experience episodic bouts of fatigue, numbness, stiffness, digestive and other issues.

Trujillo also developed osteoarthritis in both knees, which led to two surgeries, spaced a year apart, to replace her knee joints. Years later, an accident at home shattered her femur (the thigh bone above her knee), which led to another surgery.

“I had X-rays on that leg every month to check on the healing of the femur,” recalled Trujillo. “After the third month of improvement, the doctor told me how pleased he was to see the healing, as he had feared that I would lose the leg and never walk again.”

Love of cycling

Yet all these setbacks did not keep Trujillo from enjoying one of her favorite pastimes: cycling with her “Girl Gang.”

“We used to bike 35-40 miles in a single trip, sometimes reaching speeds of 12-14 miles an hour,” she said. “One of our favorite trips was on the Bosque Trail along the Rio Grande River. With the water and the wooded areas, it is a beautiful ride.”

In the past few years, however, Trujillo was finding it harder to keep up with the girls.

“My husband suggested that we purchase an electric bike to maintain my speed and distance. That was a big help for a while.”

But over time, her hip started exhibiting the familiar pains she endured with her knees.

“My best friend is the physical therapist who helped me recover from my knee replacement surgeries,” Trujillo said. “She would massage my hip and do a type of acupuncture that would go deep into the muscle tissue. Afterward, she would always say, ‘I’ll keep you going as long as I can, but that hip pain is never going to go away on its own.’”

Diagnosis and hip replacement surgery

That led Trujillo to an appointment with Dr. Patrick Gilligan, an orthopedic surgeon at Lovelace Medical Center (LMC). Dr. Gilligan diagnosed her with osteoarthritis in both hips and recommended that she have surgery to replace the left one since it had been causing her the most pain.

Trujillo agreed to replacement surgery during which Dr. Gilligan used the Mako SmartRobotics™ system at LMC. Studies have shown that robotic surgery can provide a faster recovery rate than other surgical procedures, perhaps up to 50% less time to full recovery.

Using precise measurements of Joleen’s hip and then placing temporary metal pins at key points above and below the hip, the system helped guide Dr. Gilligan to make very precise incisions. This technique retained as much of the healthy bone as possible and created a better fit so that everything locked together well.

He removed parts of the hip joint damaged by the “bone on bone” grinding: the femoral head (ball) at the top of the femur and the acetabulum (socket). He then replaced the damaged sections with new parts constructed of metal, ceramic and very hard plastic. The smoothness of these new parts will help reduce pain and improve Joleen’s mobility.

“The surgery went well,” recalled Trujillo. “The pain I had was gone when I woke up. There was some soreness when I woke up, but it was a different kind of pain. I don't know how to explain it, the hip pain was just gone.”

After surgery, Trujillo started an in-home physical therapy program. She got approval to have a stationary bike and work out on strength-building machines.

Through it all, Trujillo had high praise for Dr. Gilligan and his staff: “Carrie, his nurse, is amazing. She was full of information and gave me the pamphlets to read and the videos to watch before my surgery.”

“Dr. Gilligan really listens to his patients. He is a very compassionate man who cares for the people under his care. He is a blessing to me, a blessing sent by God. That’s why I call him my ‘Angel in the Middle.’”

New goals

Now that her left hip has been replaced and healed, along with both knees, Trujillo is looking forward to scheduling replacement surgery for her right hip in a few months.

“I want to get back to riding with the girls, especially along the bike trail in the Bosque,” she said.

“I also want to get back into the gym and workout,” she said. “I think I can just about do anything right now. I may be 66, but in my mind, I am 35-40 years old. I used to be able to flip a truck tire that weighed 275 pounds, but I had to stop because I could not squat low enough to use the proper form. Once I get my right hip replaced, I’m going to work hard to regain my flexibility and leg strength and flip that tire again,” Trujillo said.

With her new joints and her personal drive to get stronger, Trujillo has the right combination to continue living a happy and healthy life.


If you are experiencing pain in your knees, hips or other areas, call Lovelace Medical Group Orthopedics at (505) 727-4430. You can also read more and schedule an appointment on our Orthopedic Services web page.