The Best Joint in Town

July 05, 2014

For Simon Rhee, being able to run, jump, kick, lift heavy objects and even throw a punch or two is not just a matter of athletic prowess. It's his livelihood. The Calabasas resident, 55, is an actor and stunt man in the movie business. So when hip pain started affecting his ability to work, he knew it was time to speak to a hip specialist.

Today, however, Rhee is on the set of the movie The Gambler, feeling like a 20-year-old. And he's indebted to Joel Matta, MD, and the staff of the Hip & Pelvis Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, who replaced his hip last July.

Rhee's troubles began when he injured his knee working on the set of the movie The Lone Ranger. Overcompensating for that injury led to excruciating pain in his right hip. Before long, Rhee, who is also a martial arts instructor, was living with considerable discomfort. He couldn't sleep for more than one hour at a time or drive for more than 15 minutes.

He began searching for the kind of orthopedic surgeon who possessed attributes Rhee valued as a practitioner of martial arts: discipline, dedication and precision. That's when he found Dr. Matta, founder and director of the Hip & Pelvis Institute. An internationally recognized expert in hip preservation, he pioneered a hip replacement surgery technique called the anterior approach in the United States.

“I decided I wanted to go to a doctor who was the master,” Rhee says. “I did my research when I found out I needed hip surgery. I talked to other stunt actors who'd had surgery and recommended Dr. Matta. Dr. Matta was very reassuring. He had so much spirit and energy about him.”

“The idea behind the Hip & Pelvis Institute is that patients can come here and get different viewpoints for their treatment. Is there something we can do to fix your hip or do we have to go to replacement?" – Dr. Joel Matta

Rhee was in his studio teaching martial arts within a week after surgery and was cleared for regular physical activity after three months. “I'm back playing golf and working,” he says. “Right now on the movie The Gambler, I get to beat up [the actor] Mark Wahlberg. I couldn't have done that without my new hip.”

Rhee is among the hundreds of patients who flock to orthopedic surgeons practicing at Providence Saint John's Health Center. The Health Center is known throughout the Western United States, has been named one of Healthgrades™ America's 100 Best Hospitals for Joint Replacement™ and has received the Healthgrades Joint Replacement Excellence Award™ for three straight years (2012 to 2014).

Chief among the reasons for choosing Saint John's Health Center is the hospital's innovative care for hip problems. The Hip & Pelvis Institute prides itself on offering patients choices.

For example, Dr. Matta is a leader in hip preservation surgery, an alternative to total hip replacement surgery for patients with hip dysplasia. He focuses on patients with arthritis or younger patients with congenital deformities of the hip to alleviate their symptoms while postponing, for as long as possible, the need for hip replacement surgery. He's the go-to surgeon for complex cases and patients who may feel they have no options for their joint troubles.

“The idea behind the Hip & Pelvis Institute is that patients can come here and get different viewpoints for their treatment,” Dr. Matta explains. “Is there something we can do to fix your hip or do we have to go to replacement?”

Dr. Matta has been a champion of anterior hip replacement. Traditional, or posterior, hip replacement surgery involves making an incision through tendons called external rotators. These tendons help stabilize the ball in the hip socket. The anterior approach better preserves the muscles around the hip and reduces the risk of hip dislocation, a potential complication that can result in the need for revision surgery.

Dr. Matta travels around the world teaching this technique to surgeons. He was trained in the anterior approach in France and began performing it on a regular basis in 1996, one of the first orthopedic surgeons in the country to do so.

“With the anterior approach, the problem of hip dislocation is greatly solved,” Dr. Matta says. “The patient recovers more quickly and has less pain after surgery, and we can be more accurate with leg length.”

Anterior hip replacement surgery is growing in popularity. About a decade ago, only 1% of orthopedic surgeons performed the operation, but that rate is now closer to 25%, Dr. Matta says. However, at Saint John's Health Center, more than 80% of hip replacements are performed using the anterior approach—the most common surgery performed at the hospital.

Andrew G. Yun, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, oversees a majority of the anterior cases at the Health Center.

“I prefer it because the procedure leads to outcomes that are much more technically precise, surgically safe and associated with more rapid recoveries,” Dr. Yun says. “I have trained in leading academic centers around the world, and I've done all of the different styles of hip replacement. But I focus on the anterior approach because there has been a clear difference in outcomes. I want my patients to have the best.”

Few hospitals are as well-equipped to offer anterior hip replacement as Saint John's. Dr. Matta's passion for the technique led him to invent a special operating room table to perform anterior hip replacement surgery. The table includes a robotic device to lift the femur during surgery.

He has established the largest single surgical database on the procedure and has published his outcomes data in scientific journals. The database is a valuable resource because it allows Dr. Matta to analyze outcomes that can lead to further improvements in surgery and recovery.

The fact that anterior hip replacement surgery would spare his muscles was a key reason Rhee chose Saint John's, he says. Although Rhee is a well-trained athlete, which undoubtedly aided his recovery, all patients who have the anterior hip replacement surgery benefit from muscle preservation.

Rhee is now tuning up his golf game for an anticipated round with Dr. Matta. “I was only in the hospital for two days; the surgery just wasn't that difficult,” Rhee says. “I'm doing all of the things I used to do. I'm 100% healthy. The care at Saint John's Health Center was great.”

To learn how you can support the Hip & Pelvis Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, call Jeanne Goldsmith at 310-582-7344.