Carrying 40- to 80-pound boxes of honey from beehives to his truck was becoming painful for Nick Shilliff in the summer of 2015. His left hip would ache during the day and keep him awake at night. “It got so I couldn’t take three steps without pain, and I couldn’t sleep because I could not get comfortable,” he recalls.
Shilliff and his family run Gridley Hollow Honey Co. in Virgil, two miles east of Greek Peak Mountain Resort where his family skis each winter. Bees and honey fill their days from spring to fall when the family’s 800 to 1,000 hives produce about 40 tons of honey. As his hip pain worsened, Shilliff cut back on his skiing and wondered how he could continue running the business he started in 1989.
A neighbor who volunteers with Shilliff ’s daughters on the Greek Peak ski patrol recognized the symptoms of Shilliff’s deteriorating hip joint and urged him to seek help. She had a hip replaced at Cayuga Medical Center by Dr. Deidre Blake, an orthopedic surgeon with Cayuga Medical Associates. Ten weeks after the surgery, she was back on the slopes at Greek Peak.
As his hip pain increased beyond what ibuprofen could soften, Shilliff , who is 62, saw his primary care physician, Dr. Howard Silcoff , at Dryden Family Medicine. He recommended that Shilliff see Blake, who was already on Shilliff ’s list of orthopedic surgeons to consult. Shilliff and his wife, Susan, went to see Blake last September. She gave them an overview of the surgery, recovery time, the post-operative precautions of joint replacement surgery, and the various types of hip replacement joints.
“There are several types of replacement hips. A patient’s age and activity level are some of the issues to consider. Nick has an active life, so a ceramic-on-plastic hip joint that could provide years of service was an appropriate choice,” Blake explains.
Shilliff recalls telling Blake that he had three goals for the surgery: “I want to keep running my business, I want to ski this winter, and I want to walk my oldest daughter down the aisle when she gets married on New Year’s Day.” Blake thought all those goals were possible. She would do the surgery 7 a.m. on November 10 at Cayuga Medical Center.
Over the weeks leading up to his surgery, Shilliff began an exercise program to strengthen his leg muscles and speed his recovery. On the day of his surgery, he and Susan arrived early in the morning at Cayuga Medical
Center. Shilliff was readied for surgery and taken to the operating room for the one- to two-hour procedure followed by an afternoon of recovery. Later that evening he started his rehabilitation with some light exercise to begin using his new hip. The day after his surgery, he was on his feet and using a walker. He was surprised that the hip pain that had been part of his every step was already gone.
Shilliff returned home three days after his surgery, which Blake said was typical for hip patients. During the next three weeks, a visiting to help him recuperate and maintain the daily exercises that are critical for successful hip replacement recovery. Shilliff’s first outing was the Sunday after his surgery when he took a slow stroll with the aid of a walker on the road outside his home.
“I was exhausted. After about 100 feet I thought, ‘Wow, this is tough.’ I was going down the stairs one by one. But it wasn’t long – about a week or so – that I could go all the way down the road. In about two weeks I switched from the walker to a cane,” Shilliff says.
In early December Shilliff began physical therapy using a stationary bike in combination with exercise to continue strengthening his leg and hip muscles. He increased his roadwork to three daily walks to get himself ready for his daughter’s wedding day. On January 1, he walked with her down the aisle.
During an early February checkup, Shilliff recalls Blake asking him if he was able to do everything he wanted to do. “I said I’d like to go skiing.
She said go ahead, but just stay off those steep black diamond trails.”
The next day, 12 weeks after surgery, Shilliff headed off to Greek Peak and kept hitting the trails until April when the snow got slushy and bee season was coming on. Shilliff ’s daughters took a video of their dad skiing and dropped off a copy at Blake’s office.
“I wanted to encourage people. There is life after surgery,” Shilliff says.
His new hip may be expanding his life later this year after the fall flower honey season is over. Shilliff’s looking to squeeze in some tango lessons with his wife before getting back to the slopes at Greek Peak.