For 72-year-old Gary Faas, who worked underground for many years mining for coal and sometimes gold, there’s no better feeling than being out in the open air – especially 12,000 feet above a drop zone!
A Vietnam veteran, the Albuquerque resident is an avid skydiver with more than 400 jumps to his credit. After recovering from three joint replacement surgeries in 2022, he is looking forward to jumping again soon.
“I've been physically active almost my entire life,” said Gary, “but in 1993 I was diagnosed with osteopenia – a weakening of bone mass. Then around 15 years ago, my bones started to become brittle and I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. I was in such severe pain that I started to lose hope about ever being pain-free.”
Gary was diagnosed by doctors at the local VA hospital, who determined that he needed to get both hips and his left knee replaced. Unfortunately, the soonest that the VA could schedule the surgeries was six to eight months.
“Since I was in so much pain, I knew I couldn’t wait that long,” said Gary. “So I convinced the VA to connect me with Western Sky Community Care, who then referred me to Dr. Patrick Gilligan at Lovelace Medical Center.”
Joint replacement surgeries
Gary set up an appointment with Dr. Gilligan to talk about his surgeries. They talked at length about the procedures, how to prepare and what to expect. “Dr. Gilligan was very thorough on his part,” Gary said.
“I told him that I would like to get the left knee replaced first,” he recalled, “because I was tired of hobbling around all the time. But after reviewing my X-rays, Dr. Gilligan thought it would be best to replace the right hip, then the left hip and finally the left knee. I had never met a doctor who was so dedicated and concerned with my health, so I trusted him and agreed to the surgeries.”
In most cases involving the replacement of both hips, one hip is replaced at a time. This gives the patient time to heal, rehabilitate the first hip to get stronger and steadier on their feet and then replace the other hip in the second surgery.
The first surgery went very well for Gary. Dr. Gilligan removed the damaged sections of the hip joint: the femoral head (ball) at the top of the femur (thigh bone) and the Acetabulum (socket). He replaced these damaged sections with new parts constructed of metal, ceramic and very hard plastic. The smoothness of the new parts help reduce pain and improve mobility.
After eight weeks of recovery and rehabilitation, Dr. Gilligan replaced the left hip.
Six months after Gary's two hip surgeries were completed, he had his left knee replaced.
During the knee replacement surgery, Dr. Gilligan removed damaged cartilage and bone from the knee. He then attached metal implants to the ends of the thigh and calf bones. A plastic spacer was inserted between the metal pieces to help the new joint move smoothly.
“After each surgery,” Gary said, “the nurse came to my room in the evening to get me out of bed to stand up. With each joint they operated on, I no longer felt the stabbing pain. Sometimes I wondered if I was still under pain medications, but I soon realized that my pain was gone.”
After both hip surgeries, Gary’s sister flew from Orlando to help him around the house and begin rehabilitation sessions at Lovelace UNM Rehabilitation Hospital.
“I went twice a week for at least an hour each time,” said Gary. “Much of my work involved strengthening my muscles and improving my range of motion, especially my back muscles, as they had withered away after a few years of inactivity. The staff kept me motivated to stay active and not lay around all day and stiffen up. They really helped me get my strength back.”
Gary has also noticed an improvement in his mobility, especially when shopping for food.
“I'm really amazed at the difference since the surgeries. I used to rely heavily on DoorDash for meals and Walmart deliveries for groceries. Now I can go shopping myself and not be in pain or get tired as I walk up and down the aisles.”
Being pain-free and stronger has also motivated the 72-year-old to restart one of his favorite hobbies - skydiving.
“I have four sisters, three of them are active skydivers. More than 400 jumps seem like a lot, but our brother Fred has more than 4,200!”
While flying for hours in an airplane used to cause him great pain, Gary now thinks he could stand a flight to visit his family. He’d also like to get back on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle to cruise around New Mexico.
“This state is wide open with so many vistas and mountains,” Gary said. “I look out my backyard and see a mountain with an elevation of 9,800 feet, but it’s only two and a half miles away from my back door. I’d like to get out there soon and start searching for fossils again, one of my other hobbies. I’m so glad I can do things again!”
Gary gives all the credit for his good health to Dr. Gilligan and the care team.
“Dr. Gilligan’s staff is excellent,” Gary said. “With a return to full mobility and with little pain in my legs, their care and competence were amazing. Lovelace is where miracles happen, and I got three miracles from Dr. Gilligan.”
For more information on joint replacement surgery or our other orthopedic services, visit our web page or call 505.727.2727.