Former Olympian Susan Murphy: I Can Finally Fence again

Mr Venu Kavarthapu, Orthopaedic surgeon at London Bridge Hospital, performed Innovative Hip Surgery on Former Olympian Susie Murphy and she was quickly back as a volunteer in the London Olympics fencing competition, thanks to a range of new techniques that halve recovery time. - Daily Express Article Published 23 Oct 2012



Tuesday October 23,2012
Interview by Tanith Carey

IT had been more than 30 years since Susie Murphy last picked up a foil but Britain’s former top female fencer was determined to help at the 2012 Olympics. A competitor in Mexico City in 1968, Munich in 1972 and the 1976 Montreal Games, Susie hoped to offer her expertise when the event came to London this summer.



However just six weeks before starting as a volunteer in the fencing competition she was told she needed a hip replacement.

“I packed away my fencing gear long ago but all that lunging on my right leg came back to haunt me when my hip started seizing up,” says Susie, 62, who started fencing at 14 and retired 12 years later after competing in Montreal.

Walking to her job as a receptionist for a bank Susie’s right leg would often lock and she would become frozen to the spot.

“I could never tell when it was going to strike. After a minute or two of jiggling it about I would manage to click it back and get going again. It was embarrassing and unnerving not knowing when it was going to happen next“.

The mother-of-two from Barnes, south west London, clung to the hope it was a trapped nerve and waited for the problem to resolve itself but her GP immediately diagnosed an arthritic hip joint.

Susie’s fencing career had worn out the cartilage lining on the tip of her right thigh bone.

The news was a shock. “I was stunned because until then I’d associated a hip replacement with older, frailer people,” she says.

“The Olympics were just over a month away. I’d got the job as volunteer two years earlier and had been looking forward to it every day since. Now I had this bad news I’d never dreamt I could get it done in time for the event. I always assumed I’d need three months of recovery afterwards.”

A friend recommended she see orthopaedic surgeon Mr Venu Kavarthapu at London Bridge Hospital, who promised her she would quickly be back on her feet thanks to a range of new techniques that halve recovery time.

In conventional hip surgery surgeons cut a 12-inch incision through the buttock muscle to access the pelvis. They then dislocate the thigh bone, cut off the worn away top and replace it with a prosthetic steel joint fitted with a ceramic head.

The surgeon must create a large incision in the patient’s leg to see in detail what size and shape replacement is needed.

Because it is major surgery patients also need general anaesthetic and strong painkillers afterwards. This leaves them unsteady on their legs and can delay how soon they walk again, which is a crucial factor in the operation’s success.

However Mr Kavarthapu says a whole host of new techniques used together has dramatically speeded up the process. “Thanks to a combination of computer software and special X-rays I can determine the size and shape of the prosthetic I need and exactly where it needs to go before I cut into the patient.

“It means I operate through a much smaller incision in the hip. There’s less tissue damage, less blood loss and less pain afterwards. Painkillers are also given locally to numb the hip areas so patients are less wobbly when they wake up.

“Our physiotherapists then aim to get them moving again between two to four hours after the operation. We achieve that in seven out of 10 cases.”

Susie’s operation lasted 45 minutes, half the standard time.

“I was terrified beforehand but my wound was only about one and a half inches long. I couldn’t believe the consultant managed to fit a new joint through such a small opening.

“Within just a few hours the physiotherapist was at my bedside, helping me to do some gentle exercises, such as moving the leg side-to-side and up and down off the mattress.”

Within three days, instead of the usual seven or eight, Susie was fit enough to climb up and down stairs and was discharged from hospital.

By the time she returned to see Mr Kavarthapu two weeks later she was walking without crutches.

When the Olympics began Susie, a former Commonwealth champion, relished the chance to be involved in competitions again.

For 10 days she worked as a “piste manager” looking after the platforms where the fencers competed and taking care of the athletes.

“It was wonderfully exciting to be back in the middle of it all,” she says. “No one could have guessed I’d had major surgery. It didn’t stop me doing anything.”

Her new-found mobility means she is now agile enough to dig out her old fencing equipment and she plans to compete in her first veterans’ tournament next month.

While the new techniques have helped Susie stay active they are also good news for the 70,000 people who have hip replacements every year in England alone. Mr Kavarthapu is already using the procedure at his NHS base at King’s College Hospital, London.

He says: “Patients find this rapid rehabilitation surgery much less daunting. They regain their confidance to walk more quickly and they are much happier about having the operation which gives them back their quality of life.”