Gentleman farmer gets new lease on life

Northern Hospital of Surry County
Jim and Louise Marion, along with their dog, Roscoe, on their farm. -
Dr. Rob Williamson, orthopedic surgeon, and Jim Marion chat over farming, logging, and more while Dr. Williamson visits the Marion’s home in Stuart, Virginia. -

Eighty-two-year-old agricultural expert Jim Marion knows a thing or two about transformation.

So does his wife Louise, as well as legions of their life-long friends – each of whom has witnessed Jim’s physical “rebirth” from a pain-riddled past to a free-flowing present. A transformation that permits the energetic “farmer hobbyist” to convert raw lumber into functional forms using his portable saw-mill, handle a heavy-duty stump-grinder like a man forty years younger, and regularly mow 30 tracts of cleared land on his nearly 200-acre farm in Stuart, Virginia.

Jim credits his nearly overnight transformation to the surgical savvy and skills of Robert Williamson, MD, the orthopedic surgeon who performed a total hip replacement on him four years earlier at Northern Hospital of Surry County.

“Dr. Williamson gave me a new lease on life,” says Jim as he gives a grateful nod to the surgical director of Northern Orthopedics, the division of Orthopedic Surgery & Sports Medicine for Northern Hospital.

As Jim explains, his restorative hip surgery almost didn’t happen.

From Spine to Hip

Jim started developing back pain almost a decade earlier when he assumed the primary-caregiver role for his ailing late wife, Liz, who eventually succumbed to cancer in 2012.

“While looking after her, I kept ignoring my own back problem,” he said. Jim’s pain grew progressively worse – eventually sidelining him from even the most basic day-to-day activities. “I could hardly get around,” he recalled. “I had shooting pain, constantly, that ran up and down my right leg.”

As a retired academic, having served 10-plus years as dean of the School of Agriculture at Auburn University, Jim quietly launched his own research effort to find the medical help he knew he needed. That initiative led him to see two different spine surgeons – one based in Roanoke, Virginia; the other in Winston-Salem. “They both recommended spine surgery,” said Jim, “And, in fact, one was ready to operate on me immediately.”

But something told him to get another opinion – and that inner voice led him to make an appointment with Dr. Williamson, a gregarious, well-regarded orthopedic specialist who does not shy away from challenges – especially inside an operating room.

No bones about it, Dr. Williamson knows bones – from the shoulders to the toes. As he jokingly quips, “If you break it, we can fix it. If you tear it, we can reconstruct it. And if you wear it out, we can build you a new one.”

“When I first met Jim, his main complaint was back pain,” recalled Dr. Williamson. “Following a thorough physical exam and careful review of Jim’s diagnostic tests, Dr. Williamson realized that his new patient had a serious problem — but it was his hip.

“It’s not uncommon for patients with hip problems to present with complaints of back pain,” explained Dr. Williamson. “That’s known as referred pain – which is pain felt by a patient in a part of the body that is not the actual source of the painful stimulus. In Jim’s case, I told him he needed a hip replacement; and that a likely benefit of fixing his hip would be a lessening or elimination of his so-called back pain.”

Dr. Williamson also shared with Jim that his condition – a uniquely configured deterioration of his hip bone due to years of degenerative arthritis – was genetic in nature. As a result of the genetic anomaly, Jim’s existing hip joint was unlike a typically-shaped round ball in a round socket; instead, as Dr. Williamson explained, “it was more like a square peg that fit in a square hole.”

“I concluded immediately that Dr. Williamson knew what he was doing,” said Jim. “He explained the problem and the procedure fully, and I knew I trusted him.”

Surgery was scheduled for several weeks later.

Rapid Recovery

Once inside the operating theatre, Dr. Williamson’s 21 years of surgical expertise kicked in. After removing Jim’s degenerated hip-joint, the surgeon replaced it with a metal joint implant. During the procedure, Dr. Williamson was pleased to find that Jim’s musculoskeletal system was more like a much younger man’s – due, in part, to Jim’s active lifestyle.

The 90-minute surgery went well, with no complications; and Jim was discharged three days later.

“The nursing care was excellent the entire time I was in the hospital,” says Jim of his postsurgical stay. “Both the nurses and the nursing assistants were attentive and helpful.”

He and Louise were also equally impressed with the hospital’s facilities – which they noted were clean, comfortable, and manageable from a wayfinding perspective. “It takes Sherlock Holmes to find where you’re going in those larger city-based hospitals,” he quipped. “But everything at Northern was great – from the facility to the people we met all along the way – at the check-in … the O.R. … and even the accounting department after we left the hospital,” added Jim.

Finding Love — Again

Before and after Jim’s surgery – while his mobility was temporarily inhibited – he had been offered a ride to his doctor’s appointments by Louise, a family friend and fellow parishioner. Jim declined.

Since her retirement in 2000 from her position as treasurer of Patrick County, Louise had volunteered her services to community residents in need of transportation to medical appointments or other important meetings.

“About a month later, I kept thinking how I had really goofed up,” said Jim. He called Louise and asked if she’d meet him at a “little hole-in-the-wall in Fancy Gap, where we had lunch.”

She accepted. One lunch led to another, and another, and, as they say, the rest is history. Nowadays, the relative newlyweds spend their time with family and friends, travel occasionally (“we just finished a nine-day, 2,900-mile road trip!”), plan and execute renovation and reconstruction projects around the farm, read voraciously (“Jim has a complete set of John Grisham novels”), play board games (Scrabble is a favorite), and walk the farm with their rescue mutt Roscoe and slinky cat Smokey.

While the happy couple’s focus is fixed firmly on the future, Jim never forgets that his positive outlook and “much improved condition” was made possible by the successful surgery he received at Northern Hospital.

“In fact, since the surgery, I’ve had only one problem,” said Jim. “The first time we flew, I forgot I had a hip replacement, and the beeper went off as I walked through the detector. I apologized and took my keys out of my pocket. I walked through again, and the beeper went off again. I removed my watch. The third time the alarm beeped, I suddenly remembered my operation and said, ‘Oh, I have a new hip!’

Ever since, Jim continues to walk tall … but now alerts TSA agents to his new hip before setting off alarms.

Jim and Louise Marion, along with their dog, Roscoe, on their farm. and Louise Marion, along with their dog, Roscoe, on their farm.

Dr. Rob Williamson, orthopedic surgeon, and Jim Marion chat over farming, logging, and more while Dr. Williamson visits the Marion’s home in Stuart, Virginia. Rob Williamson, orthopedic surgeon, and Jim Marion chat over farming, logging, and more while Dr. Williamson visits the Marion’s home in Stuart, Virginia.
hip replacement surgery improves quality-of-life

Northern Hospital of Surry County