In a post-covid world our quality of life is important, which is also an important consideration for Nuffield Health Leeds Hospital, where the team of medical consultants who work at the forefront of innovative technology help patients get back to doing things they love doing following periods of debilitating pain.  

For example, as the first hospital in the North of England to offer MAKO robotic-arm assisted surgery for total hip replacement, it was used to great effect for a trio of family members who, at their peak sporting fitness nearly had to stop all their activities, something that would have had a devasting impact. 

The team helped, Debbie, her brother Rob and sister-in-law Jo back to full fitness after major hip operations.  

Debbie’s Story

Debbie Sorby, who hails from the East Midlands, is part of an active sporting family and would probably describe herself as quite obsessive when it comes to running; every morning she pounds the streets at 5.30am come rain or shine. 

“I have always enjoyed running and have competed in a lot of road and ultra marathons. My ideal is running in the mountains, something I love doing. The last one I did was about 60 miles in the Peak District. I always have an urge to be outside.”

In fact, she finds it difficult to stay still and admits that sitting on the sofa is not an option for this hockey playing, horse riding, skier. Even when she had children and studying for a MBA, she never gave up on her running. Nothing would get in the way of running or so she thought.

“I have always had a few niggles and flakes and the year leading up to my hip operation people were noticing I was beginning to limp. However, I kept ploughing on regardless, conscientiously stretching at the end of any exercise. I regularly had physio, saw a chiropractor plus sports massage, all to keep myself mobile”

But the limping got worse with Debbie realising mobility on her left side was not as great as it should be and, during the lockdown period of 2020, she was in quite a lot of pain.

Debbie being Debbie, ran through it, until one day thinking she had tweaked a muscle made an appointment with a physio.

Initial thinking leaned towards medius tendinopathy; a painful condition caused by inflammation in the tendons.

After a second opinion also concluded the problem was more muscular than skeletal Debbie knew “in my heart of hearts it was something else, mainly as my brother [Rob] had been suffering for two to three years from similar symptoms. I kept joking with him it was his hip and it was quite extensive training for Rob as he trained for Ironman and fell training.

“My problem, however, came on quite suddenly. It became really apparent when I was horse riding. As I was schooling a horse I realised I had no strength in my left leg and knew this wasn’t right. So, I tried to build more strength exercises into my personal training. I could not even pivot on that leg.” 

On advice from her physio Debbie stopped running of six weeks.

“I cycled, swam, and lightly jogged. Six weeks later it was not much better in fact it was almost worse. Couldn’t run do anything. Sport was my life.”

As the thought of stopping all her sport was a daunting prospect, Debbie paid to have an MRI scan in November 2020 and the results were returned within three days.

It was a bombshell. 

“I burst into tears. It was quite clear I had bone-on-bone in my left hip, as well as labral tear and a 4.5cm cyst. Hence, the reason I was in a lot of pain and why I couldn’t sleep. I’ve always had a bad back and sciatica, probably caused by falling off lots of horses when I was a kid.”

It was at this point that Debbie started researching hip replacements, contacting GB triathlete, Michael Rix, who had had a hip replacement in his forties and still competed for GB ten years later. 

“He gave me confidence, especially as everyone kept telling me I was done, and my running life was over. At 50 I didn’t want to hear that.”

Throughout her research, one name kept popping up - Mr Jon Conroy. That was enough to prompt Debbie to travel to his clinic for a consultation. 


“Talking through what was involved, Jon was lovely and honest, he never once said I would never be able to do X, Y or Z.”

The Benefits:

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Mr Jon Conroy, pointed out that state-of-the-art MAKO™ robotic arm system works alongside the surgeon from the pre-surgery planning stage through to assisting in the surgery itself to improve the accuracy and precision of the procedure.

Before surgery, a personalised 3D model is created based on the patient’s own CT scan, allowing the exact size and orientation of the hip or knee implant to be planned. During the operation, the robot arm guides the surgeon, following the customised pre-surgery plan, reducing the risk of surgical errors in bone preparation and placement of the implants.

Mr Conroy explained: “With Debbie’s level of fitness and her focused motivation I would expect her to recover well after hip replacement. The MAKO robotic assistance during the surgery helps with planning and correct placement of the implants. In my experience the balance of the hip is improved by choosing the correct size, the correct position and leg length correction. With the choice of low wearing implants designed for younger patients it gives the surgeon confidence to encourage a safe fast track return to activities.”

The robotic system can perform very accurate cuts of the bone leading to much improved outcomes and speedier recovery with better long-term function.

Mr Conroy instructs fellow surgeons in Amsterdam for Europe and Taiwan for the Chinese and Japanese markets. He says: “As the first to install it in the north of England our unit at Nuffield Health Leeds Hospital has pioneered Orthopaedic robotics across total knee replacement, uni-compartment or partial knee replacement and total hip replacement. We are consistently in the top performing units for robotic joint replacements across the country including my own personal experience of over 700 cases.” 

Debbie was convinced because of Mr Conroy’s honest and clear explanations and, despite just about to start a new job with the British Business Bank, Debbie knew if she ever wanted to get back to running, the operation was a must. Just two months after her consultation she booked the first available appointment 2 January 2021. 

“All through Mr Conroy was super reassuring, talking me through everything as I was very nervous. It was remarkable. I never had any pain and he said he had cut me in a way to reduce damage to any big muscles which would hopefully help with recovery and rehab.”

It also prompted Rob and sister-in-law, Jo, who were both superb runners, to book in for hip replacements with Mr Conroy. They had used Debbie as a guineapig and, after seeing how successful her operation was, plus the post care rehabilitation, needed no persuasion. 

Post Op 

“The post op rehab was superb. The Nuffield Health physiotherapist was excellent always super positive and never once said should you be getting back to running?

“He understood all the reasons why I wanted to, and needed to, run. He gave me specific exercises that mimicked running. After seven weeks I went in, and he signed me off to run again.” 

Having slowly build up the muscle Debbie is back running, at the Charnwood Athletic training ground in Loughborough, and has completed the 32 mile, Dig Deep race in the Peak District. Not only that, but she was also crewing for friends who were running the South Downs 100 at the end of June. She was able to run alongside them on a 30 mile stretch. 

Even more impressive Debbie was back to skiing in March as well as horse riding. 

She entered the UTMB Ultra-Trail Snowdonia 50Km, one of the toughest British routes with seriously technical terrain rising to 10,200ft.

Four months after his op, Rob entered his first fell race, at first taking things slowly but it proved a special moment when he had it confirmed that racing was back on. 

“Since last summer, I have gone on to complete the Laverado 50km, which is an ultra-race in the dolomites, I feel very fortunate to be out there running in the hills, the mountains, and the fields, being outside is part of who I am so having the chance to get back to enjoying this has been life changing. As we all do, I hesitated and procrastinated on having the op, mostly due to the fear of what would be possible afterwards, knowing what I do now I wouldn't wait. Thanks to Jon Conroy and his team for not only making the experience a good one but more importantly for allowing me to be back living in exactly the way I want to,” Rob said.

Mr Conroy said: “I’m delighted Debbie, Rob and Jo have managed to realise their goals after MAKO robotic assisted hip replacements. Through their determination and hard work, they have recovered to fitness levels previously unheard of after hip replacement. Whether your aspiration is simply the relief of pain or return to high activity levels, a robotic assisted hip or knee replacement at Nuffield Health Leeds Hospital can help you achieve your goals.”

Debbie said: “Having a bespoke made hip, Jon Conroy’s expertise and attention to detail and proper thought rehabilitation in building up core strength has meant I quickly got back to normal life. I used to have sciatica but that is no longer an issue, maybe because my hip has been realigned. 

“I am so pleased. People still think hip replacement is an old person’s procedure this is a misconception. I would not hesitate to have another one. 

“Don’t suffer in silence. It’s better to do it whilst your muscles are strong. I will never forget Jon’s words when he signed me off. ‘Now enjoy your new hip’” 

More about MAKO robotic-arm assisted surgery

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