Emily Simpson is used to pressure. On The Real Housewives of Orange County (RHOC), she regularly navigates the drama and intense scrutiny that come with being part of a reality show. Yet even the stress of having cameras document her every move didn’t compare to the difficulties of living with chronic arthritis pain.
Two years ago, the 44-year-old attorney and mother of a 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old twins began feeling pain and stiffness in her left hip. Walking long distances increased her discomfort, so she began taking shortcuts, like parking her car as close as possible when she drove her daughter, Annabelle, to school. On family outings to the movie theater, Emily (whose husband, Shane, is the father of her two “bonus daughters” – Chanel, 14, and Shelby, 19) would call dibs on the aisle seat so she could comfortably stretch her legs.
“I modified so many aspects of my life,” she admits. “When you have chronic pain, every second of the day is a struggle.”
A Growing Problem
Emily initially believed the pain in her left hip and leg were the result of a pulled muscle.
“I took Advil for my pain but it got increasingly worse,” she says. “I reached the point where I couldn’t lie down or even tie my shoes without assistance from my husband.”
The emotional impact finally caught up with Emily last year as she saw her quality of life plummet. Working out with her personal trainer left her wincing in agony, and she found herself having to tell her twins, Luke and Keller, that she didn’t feel well enough to play with them. On RHOC, she was open about her struggles with pain and discomfort and kept pushing through.
“I reached the point where the combination of pain and immobility left me feeling depressed,” Emily says. “I lost my motivation and quit working out with my personal trainer. As a result, I gained 20 pounds.”
The extra weight only added to her discomfort. To add insult to injury, Emily slipped on some confetti at the December 2018 RHOC finale and fell on her already painful hip. Thinking she may have sustained a fracture, she visited her doctor and was surprised when X-rays showed her left hip had no cartilage.
“My mom had hip replacement surgery last year at the age of 67, but I didn’t expect to have hip surgery at my age,” Emily says. “My doctor said I had a misshaped hip bone that led to cartilage damage and early arthritis.”
Small Goals, Big Success
Emily’s hip condition, known as femoroacetabular impingement syndrome (FAIS), can result in chronic pain and is associated with progressive osteoarthritis of the hip.
“The reason her hip wore out prematurely is because her left hip had an abnormal shape,” says her orthopedic surgeon, Chris Mellano, MD. Her other hip, which has had the same amount of use over her lifetime, “looks perfect; it’s not worn out because it’s shaped normally.”
He told Emily that hip replacement surgery was the best option to ease her pain and help her resume her active lifestyle, and in June 2019, knowing surgery was inevitable, Emily pledged to lose the extra pounds she’d packed on.
“Being healthy and lean and strong is always good before a surgery like that,” says Dr. Mellano.
“I knew that even though it hurt to move, I needed to lose weight and relieve the pressure on my left hip and move daily in order to combat arthritis,” Emily says.
When she heard about a 12-week fitness/weight loss program offered by a local fitness trainer, Paulina Taylor Hefferan, Emily decided to give it a try.
“Paulina helped me to adapt exercises, so, for example, I would do upper body push-ups leaning against the wall rather than on the floor,” Emily says. “I worked out with Paulina three times a week and she helped me set small weekly goals, so it didn’t seem overwhelming.”
She also cleaned up her diet. She stopped eating “on the run” foods, like leftover mac and cheese, and started eating more mindfully, using a list of healthy food swaps and a nutrition guide.
New Hip, Hooray!
Soon, Emily saw the extra pounds coming off, and last October she underwent hip replacement surgery. Although she was nervous prior to the procedure, she was also excited at the thought of finally living pain-free.
“I did experience some pain post-surgery, but my mom, my husband and children all took good care of me as I recovered,” she says.
A new hip helped correct her musculoskeletal mechanics, so the chronic knee pain she also had experienced has “drastically improved,” Dr. Mellano says.
Her surgery and recovery were fairly typical except that she is younger than the average hip replacement patient, he says. “The public thinks of hip replacement as something that Grandma and Grandpa do, and while that’s true, implants are much less invasive and last much longer.”
He advises younger patients like Emily to have joint replacement surgery sooner rather than waiting. “The improvement in quality of life is tremendous.”
It has been for Emily. Three weeks after surgery, she attended the RHOC season 14 reunion (in a wheelchair to avoid overdoing it). Five weeks after surgery, she was still sore but was walking without a limp for the first time in two years.
Now that Emily no longer has hip pain, she’s looking forward to being active again.
“I want to do things I hadn’t been able to do for a while,” she says. “Walking was a struggle, but now I want to go hiking with my kids, take them to Disneyland and live an active life!” —LINDA CHILDERS