Wearing a bright red coat adorned with military and patriotic pins, hospital volunteer Tom Lower stands to greet people walking through the doors of Community Stroke & Rehabilitation Center.
“Hello there,” he says, taking a few steps. “How can I help you?”
Small acts of standing and walking are big for Lower, who is feeling back to normal after being treated for a major infection that could have cost him his leg.
The Crown Point resident owes his recovery to a combination of determination on his own part and a team of Community Healthcare System medical professionals from physicians to therapists to wound care specialists.
“You talk about being grateful to everyone, including the man upstairs,” he says. “Also to Dr. Edgington; Dr. Edgington saved the day.”
Community Care Network orthopedic surgeon Jonathan Edgington, MD, removed Lower’s artificial left hip, placed a spacer while antibiotics cleared an infection for six weeks, then put in a new, more sturdy hip.
“The new hip is fabulous,” says Lower, who turns 70 in November.
Community Healthcare System is home to nationally acclaimed orthopedic surgery programs. Community Hospital has earned the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for Spine Surgery; St. Mary Medical Center’s award-winning Joint Academy has earned the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for Hip and Knee Replacement, and St. Catherine Hospital’s Hand Center has been recognized for innovative approaches to complex orthopedic conditions.
Orthopedic patients at Community Healthcare System benefit from a full continuum of therapy that includes education and follow-up from certified physical therapists, occupational therapists, and social workers.
The road to a new hip for Lower started with an infection, the origin of which remains a mystery.
“It was January 2021 when I started noticing swelling in my leg,” Lower recalls. “I thought, ‘That is not supposed to be there.’”
Lower’s primary care physician, Eduardo Fletes, MD, of Community Care Network, ordered an ultrasound. Imaging revealed fluid from Lower’s upper thigh to his knee. Further investigation led to the possibility of cancer, but a tissue sample showed that was not the case.
“We did not know exactly at that time why this was happening and where it was coming from,” Lower says.
Doctors believe the infection may have developed when Lower’s left hip was replaced by his surgeon in Arizona. Lower, a Vietnam veteran, theorizes that exposure to Agent Orange during his time in the military could be to blame.
“That is only a possibility,” he says. “This could have laid dormant, and when they went and replaced the hip in 2019, this could have triggered the infection. We just do not know.”
Whatever the reason, Edgington had a plan to heal it.
“I have so much respect for him,” Lower says. “I think the world of Dr. Edgington. He did everything hands-on himself. I could not have been in better hands.”
Edgington removed Lower’s left hip and placed a spacer in September 2021 at Community Hospital.
Lower spent two weeks at Community Stroke & Rehabilitation Center for physical and occupational therapy and went home to continue recovery and a regimen of antibiotics.
“I could stand on it and gently walk, but that was about it,” Lower says. “Dr. Edgington basically told me he did not want me leaving the house. We brought in care from Home Health of St. Mary Medical Center. They showed me what to do.”
In early December 2021, Lower returned to Community Hospital for a new left hip. By the new year, he was fully recovered and back in motion.
“I have been off and running ever since,” Lower says. “Nobody can believe how fast I came back.”
At Community Healthcare System, orthopedic patients benefit from a full continuum of therapy that includes education and follow-up from certified physical therapists, occupational therapists and social workers.
Lower, who leads the volunteers at Community Stroke & Rehabilitation Center and also serves as a volunteer at St. Mary Medical Center, was featured in a commercial for the rehabilitation center.
“People tell me, ‘You missed your calling. You should have been an actor,’” Lower says with a laugh.
For more information about orthopedic services at Community Healthcare System, visit COMHS.org/services/orthopedics or call 219-703-2032.