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The Ability to Walk … More Precious than Gold


About Me

I am 44 years old. I have deep roots in the community as a Durham native and Duke alumnus. I have worked in public education for 20 years, and I am currently the principal of Githens Middle School. I am a former college and professional football player and lifelong athlete. For almost a decade, I lived with excruciating hip, knee, and back pain that went undiagnosed and untreated. My quality of life vanished.

There was no accounting for the pain that Emmett Tilley felt with each step. Even as a former middle linebacker, he had not incurred a hip injury during his football years that would explain the later pain and muscle ache. For almost a decade, he hobbled around and tried to resign himself to a lifetime of pain after several attempts to find relief went nowhere.

“I saw two doctors at two different practices, trying to find out what was wrong,” says Emmett. “They both recommended physical therapy, and I followed through with what I was told to do. I didn’t see any improvement.”

As his condition deteriorated, Emmett was finally “ordered” by the mother of a student to see an orthopaedic specialist.

Trying Again -- At Duke
He met with Claude “T.” Moorman, MD, director of Duke Sports Medicine, who also happened to have been on Emmett’s football team at Duke. After a thorough evaluation, he was referred to Thomas Vail, MD, who specializes in total joint replacement. Dr. Vail established Emmett as a candidate for total hip replacement and scheduled him for surgery in December 2004.

“Here’s this high-energy, athletic, relatively young guy, and he was debilitated in his forties. It is unfortunately not that uncommon,” says Dr. Vail. “But this procedure provides an amazing physical comeback. He can go back to an active life and experience a dramatic turnaround.”

Emmett experienced that turnaround in no time.

“The day after surgery, I was immediately pain-free. I was completely amazed.”

While he was still achy from the actual procedure, he could distinguish his persistent hip pain as being absent. Day by day, he felt better and better. After two and half days, he was discharged home. Two weeks later, he could walk without crutches.

“My whole life has changed for the better,” Emmett says. “I found myself jogging recently. I haven’t been able to do that in a long time. I did a lot of fast limping before the surgery.

“There were no missing elements from my experience at Duke,” he adds. “Dr. Vail was very helpful, and the whole thing went smoothly.”
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