Jerry Don “J.D.” Baggerly is not a typical total hip replacement patient, both in his age and backstory. Now 34, he struggled with substance abuse for years before getting sober in 2018. His drug use damaged his hip so badly that he underwent a total hip joint replacement surgery at UNC Orthopaedics in October. He wants to share his story to give others hope and understanding.
Addiction Threatens J.D.’s Life—and Hip
“I became addicted to pain pills at a young age,” Baggerly says. “I eventually started using heroin, and by age 16 I was an addict.”
When Baggerly was 26, his addiction took control of his life. He could not maintain a job, bouncing from couch to couch in the homes of friends and family until he didn’t want to ask for help anymore. He became homeless, and his habit became even more dangerous because did not have access to clean water or needles. Then, in 2016, his hip began hurting. It started as a small pain but grew to the point that Baggerly decided to go to the hospital.
“I walked in, had a brief conversation with some of the medical staff, and they immediately admitted me and started hooking me up to things,” Baggerly says. “I remember telling them that it was hard to breathe, and then I blacked out. I was on life support in a coma in the hospital for five months after that.”
Baggerly had sepsis, a life-threatening condition in which the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues. It can spread to organs and joints.
When Baggerly woke up from his coma, he learned that sepsis had damaged his heart, lungs and right hip. His medical team repaired his lungs and heart, but nothing could be done for his hip at the time.
After leaving the hospital, he slowly began his physical recovery and sought help for his addiction.
“Nov. 29, 2018, was my last day getting high,” Baggerly says. He went to the Durham rehabilitation facility TROSA, where he received treatment and learned life skills to get back on his feet. However, his hip was getting weaker and more painful, and eventually he was unable to walk.
Joint Replacement Surgery at a Young Age
Baggerly went to see Christopher Olcott, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in joint replacement at UNC Orthopaedics in Chapel Hill. Over time, it became clear that a total hip replacement would be the best option for him.
“Dr. Olcott was skeptical at first because I was so young,” Baggerly says. “But the more he looked at my situation, the clearer it was that we had to do this. I was in my prime and was living like an old man.”
On Oct. 9, Baggerly had surgery. The damaged parts of his hip were removed and replaced with implants. He woke up in the recovery room and felt a difference immediately.
“I dealt with pain in my hip for about six years before that day,” Baggerly says. “They had me stand up just a couple hours after the surgery, and there was pain from the procedure, but that pain I had been dealing with for so many years was gone. It was a blessing.”
Committing to Recovery
Baggerly’s recovery took determination. He was still in treatment for addiction. He says he took pain medication for the first two days after surgery but then decided not to take it anymore.
“It was pretty painful recovering without the medications, but I didn’t want to fall back into old ways,” he says.
With help from UNC physical therapists, recovery specialists at TROSA and his own determination, Baggerly got through the pain and started walking again.
“I worked very hard for it,” he says. “My physical therapy team told me I was progressing fast, but it felt slow to me. I did a lot of walking around with a walker, just trying to gain strength and get better. By December I was moving without my walker, and in January I started working again.”
Baggerly can now move the way he wants to. His job at a manufacturing plant requires him to be on his feet all day, twisting, turning and bending over—all of which he can do pain-free.
A New Hip, a New Outlook
Baggerly’s life has changed in some ways after his surgery. He chooses not to do any high-impact exercises, to maintain his hip replacement. He knows at his young age, the implants may not last his entire life, and he may have to have another replacement surgery. But for now, he can take care of his body as well as he can. And he can still mow his yard, go fishing and play with his dog.
He wants other people with joint pain to know that joint replacement surgery could be an option for them, and that age shouldn’t get in the way of exploring that route.
“Don’t be scared,” Baggerly says. “Just look forward. You only have one life, and you need to live it to the fullest.”
If you’re curious about whether a joint replacement could be right for you, make an appointment with UNC Orthopaedics to learn more.