MSKI patient Tonya walks up the stairs with her walker and sits in the doctor's office for a consultation with Dr. Weiss

News, Your Health | 22 days ago

Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute Helps Tonya Back on Her Feet for the First Time in Two Years

For two years, 47-year-old Tonya Johnson-Oni relied on a walker and cane to get around. After a minimally-invasive, outpatient procedure at Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute, she was up and dancing, ready to get her life back. Learn more about Tonya’s story and how her transformation unfolded.

 

When 47-year-old Charlotte resident, Tonya Johnson-Oni, started experiencing peculiar symptoms in her lower body, she assumed it was due to sciatica – a common condition that causes pain along the path of the sciatica nerve. 

“I was sitting down at my computer, but when I went to get up my leg got stuck,” recalls Tonya. “The kids and I just started laughing about it." 

But as time went on, it became clear there was a much more serious underlying issue that wasn’t getting better. Tonya visited her primary care doctor, took pain medicine, and tried physical therapy. After several Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) tests, nerve tests, surgeries and pain treatments, Tonya’s body continued to decline. 

In a matter of months, Tonya went from working, shopping, and cooking to using a walker and a cane. 

"I felt like a shell of myself," said Tonya. "I didn't want to do anything. I didn't even want to go outside because I had to use a walker. I just took my kids to school, came back home and went to bed."

After Years of Suffering, Tonya Finds Hope

For two years, Tonya missed out on activities she enjoyed and relied on a walker to get around. When Tonya finally learned the underlying issue was in her hips, she sought care from Kevin Weiss, DO, an orthopedic surgeon with Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute (MSKI).

"I was told my hip was necrotic, there was no blood flow and that I needed to see an orthopedic surgeon right away,” said Tonya. “And that's how I met Dr. Weiss. I said [to my doctors at the time], ‘please, whatever you recommend, I want to make sure I go to a surgeon that is with Atrium Health’."

Dr. Weiss, who specializes in minimally-invasive anterior hip and knee replacement, helps patients get back on their feet as part of a multidisciplinary team at MSKI.

“I meet many patients when they're at their lowest. Many come in and they're depressed. They're upset. They can't live their life anymore,” said Dr. Weiss. "When I first saw her, she had debilitating pain in her left hip. Both sides were a problem, but the left side was the one that originally hurt her."

After discussions with Tonya together they realized she would benefit greatly from a hip replacement

“Patients, like Tonya, who have arthritis have lost that cartilage,” explains Dr. Weiss. “So what we're doing is resurfacing the area to give them a smooth bearing surface to walk on and get that joint moving again, which lessens pain and discomfort from bone-on-bone grinding.”

For Tonya, the minimally-invasive approach Dr. Weiss used meant she could get back to her children as fast as possible after surgery. 

“Because of my children, I told him there was absolutely no way I could stay in the hospital,” said Tonya. “And that's when we started talking about the outpatient option."

A Speedy Path Toward Recovery

When Tonya first entered the room to meet Dr. Weiss, she could hardly move. 

"I couldn't even stand up in the room and take an X-ray when I first came here,” said Tonya.  
“I had to hold onto the walker or hold onto something. It was terrible."

Fast forward a few weeks, and Tonya woke up from surgery ready to walk up and down a flight of stairs. She recalls the day of her surgery and how quickly her transformation occurred.

"I was in and out,” says Tonya. “I had the surgery. Then here comes Physical Therapy — we walked down the steps and walked back up the steps and I was going home within a couple of hours.”

Relieved, Tonya realized it was the moment she started “getting her life back”.

Tonya left the hospital without an overnight stay. Active and experiencing a stark decrease in pain, it didn’t take long to pursue the same surgery for her other hip.

“At about the six-week mark she was doing so well that she wanted to discuss her right hip,” said Dr. Weiss. “So, at about three-months post-op, we did her other hip. And when I saw her in the office afterward she was dancing and not using any assisted devices for the first time in two years."  

Multidisciplinary Care Teams Get Tonya's Life Back On Track

Tonya looks back at her story of healing and remembers the same instance with joy. 

While Dr. Weiss’ medical skill and expertise played a major role in Tonya getting her life back, he humbly credits his team and specialized care at Atrium Health as additional reasons for patient success. 

"I think it's not just the approach. It's not just what I do as a surgeon— it's also about the system as a whole,” explains Dr. Weiss. “We have a lot of resources available at Atrium Health. We have special tables we do the surgery on. The anesthesiologists are very involved in the patient care. The physical therapists are here. All the resources that are available here through MSKI allows them to have a very good recovery and get out of the hospital and start living their life again."

He describes seeing his patients after surgery as “meeting a new person,” because he’s finally able to see them for who they are—without physical and emotional pain masking their identity. 

“When I see them after they've made a full recovery and I get to see how happy they are… it's almost like I'm meeting a different person because I'm meeting who they are,” said Dr. Weiss. "To be able to solve that problem for Tonya and fix it for her at a young age while she still has so much life left to live is very rewarding, and I'm so happy that I was able to help her."

Dr. Weiss’s connection with his patients runs deep, as he explains he’s no stranger to living with a disability. 

“I had bone cancer of my right leg when I was 15-years-old,” says Dr. Weiss. “I had a massive reconstruction of my leg with a lot of chemotherapy and time spent in the hospital. So my life in a personal sense has come full circle. It's just really rewarding to help people overcome their obstacles. I was so fortunate to have such a great team of physicians and surgeons to help me overcome mine as well."

Tonya feels a similar sense of gratitude when she recalls the team of physicians and surgeons who helped her along the way, especially Dr. Weiss.

"Thank-you. Thank-you. Thank-you. Everything he told me that you were going to do for me, he did,” says Tonya. “Dr. Weiss really changed my life. I'm almost back to the real Tonya who can get up and run. I promised my five-year-old grandson a race. I'm about to do it soon!"

Specialized Surgical Expertise

One of the few specialists in the area to offer the procedure, Dr. Weiss specializes in anterior hip replacement. A total hip replacement using a direct anterior approach involves a minimally-invasive, muscle-sparing method that ends in fast results and a quick recovery. 

During the procedure, the surgeon replaces the damaged or worn natural hip joint with an artificial one—using only a three or four inch- incision. Rather than cutting into delicate muscles and tendons, the surgeon accesses the joint in between them. In most cases, this approach allows patients to be up and moving, and go home on the same day of surgery. 

Dr. Weiss and Atrium Health orthopedic surgeonMatthew Duffin, MD, are among the few surgeons in the South Charlotte/Rock Hill area who are fellowship trained in anterior hip replacement surgery.

About Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute

More than 200 physicians collaborate to bring patients advanced musculoskeletal care at Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute. Learn more about our research, care, and education, or schedule an appointment.