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Julia Dutka

Livingston, NJ
  • Julia Dutka in the photo 1

Mine is a story of entering the game for the first time, thanks to human determination and a team of world-class healthcare professionals. I grew up in a humble but loving family in Hong Kong after WWII. When I was five, I suddenly could not walk. My desperate parents brought me to doctor after doctor, all of whom failed to diagnose my condition. Then, as if by some miracle, we found our way to Dr. A.R. Hodgson, a British orthopaedic surgeon, who immediately diagnosed that tuberculosis was eating away at my right hip. Dr. Hodgson had moved to Hong Kong and made it his life’s mission to care for children devastated by this horrible disease, in a society that had largely abandoned them. With four surgeries between the ages of seven and fourteen, my condition finally stabilized. I was given a new lease on life despite the crippling impact of these surgeries. Although I walked with a pronounced limp because my right hip had been fused, I never felt lacking in my ability to learn and to lead a full and productive life.

Overcoming all odds, I came to the United States for my graduate education at Teachers College, Columbia University, after I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Hong Kong. In 1978, I received my Doctor of Education (EdD) degree in the interdisciplinary study between linguistics and psychology. I was happily married, and I began to blaze a trail as a person with a disability, a woman, and an immigrant, while raising a family with two beautiful children. In many ways, I was visibly different.

Fast forward four decades. In 2018, I began to experience severe pain in my right knee, which I later learned was referred pain from my right hip. I was worried because my daughter was getting married later that year, and I wanted to be the perfect mother-of-the-bride. After trying acupuncture, I saw a local orthopaedic surgeon, who told me that there was nothing that could be done and that I should resign myself to living as good a life as I could. My primary care physician counseled me to see a rheumatologist in HSS and explore alternatives. I ended up seeing Dr. Arthur Yee, who showed great compassion and caring and who suggested that surgery was my only alternative and that Dr. S. Robert Rozbruch was the right surgeon for me. Dr. Yee was right on both scores.

I met Dr. Rozbruch in February 2019. After an extensive examination, he concluded that I needed two surgeries. The first was a total hip replacement to enable joint mobility and increased functioning. The second was an osteoplasty of the femur to correct the valgus deformity that was preventing me from walking normally. By correcting my pelvic obliquity and by straightening my leg, I would gain the anatomical structure and sufficient limb-length to support a proper gait. It was a lot for me and my husband to take in that day. But I knew, almost instinctively, that Dr. Rozbruch had provided wise counsel.

The first surgery took place on May 31 and the second on July 17, 2019. In the weeks leading up to the first surgery, there was little that my husband and I could talk about other than the impending surgery. This was not because of any lack of understanding of what was planned. Rather, it was because of our shared regret that we had not attended to the signs of progressive degeneration earlier. There was also the big unknown, driven in part by fear, of what could happen in this unquestionably major undertaking. I was, after all, 70 years old. In his most loving way, my husband told me that he loved me just the way I was, regardless of how well I could walk, and asked whether we should proceed. I told him that I still wanted to achieve more, and I needed to take the opportunity made possible with the advances in surgical science with Dr. Rozbruch.

It has been about six months since Dr. Rozbruch brilliantly performed these two surgeries, including reducing my limb-length discrepancy to a negligible 2mms. I have been under the care of a team of exceptional physical therapists, who are applying their creativity and resolve to enable me to function in ways that I never could. They are Jennifer Lau, Christine Tolerico, and Sonali Lalwani of the St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey. The muscles in my right leg have not been used for more than 65 years. It is a long and drawn-out process to get them to function in a re-engineered anatomical environment. When I run out of patience with the grueling exercises, the team is always there to prop me up and keep me on course. Together, we are working toward a miracle to get my 70 year-old-body, which has never been in the game, to enter the game!

It is an understatement that Dr. Rozbruch is always there for me. He is always accessible by email, and I barrage him with my questions and concerns any time in the day and any day in the week. I am grateful to him for his kindness as a person, his brilliance as a surgeon, and his indefatigable spirit to push the limits of medical and surgical sciences to achieve incredible results for his patients. His creative use of technological modeling has enabled him to envision outcomes and to plan his surgical protocols with enhanced precision. His inventiveness is constantly being tempered by his clinical experience and his astute judgment. Having worked closely with him, I know that he will do what is best for his patients. And it is this limitless devotion to his patients that makes him so very special.

My story would not be complete without acknowledging the roles that Dr. Arthur Yee and Dr. Michael Henry played throughout these long months. Dr. Yee continued to care for me and did an exceptional job as my internist. Dr. Henry, an infectious disease specialist at HSS, rendered meticulous care in ensuring that my tuberculosis did not reemerge as a result of the two surgeries.

Rehabilitation care has become a major focus in my life, and it is toward this end that I am devoting my energy to enable improved care for others. Each patient at HSS has taken the first steps to achieving effective functioning. Collectively, our stories should instill confidence and comfort in others who are facing similar life-changing decisions and who can benefit from the skill and the care at HSS.

Having lived almost all of my life in a body with restricted functioning, one of my goals now is to dance. I have always been fascinated by the Viennese Waltz and the Argentine Tango. I know that one day, when my leg is strong enough, Dr. Rozbruch will take my hand and together, we will grace the halls at HSS with our steps. Then I will know that I have finally entered the game!