NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Total hip and knee replacements aren't just for your grandparents anymore.
Doctors are increasingly doing joint replacement in younger and younger people.
As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explained, longer lasting replacements and robots have made it possible.
It used to be that doctors would warn young patients with hip or knee arthritis that their joint replacement might only last 10 or 15 years, that meant having the surgery re-done for a 40 or 50-year-old with painful joints. That's what happened for one 9/11 hero.
"I was thrown down the stairs, like an entire flight of stairs, thrown against a wall, then the stairwell began to collapse in on top of me," Bill Butler recalled.
That's what he remembers from when the north tower collapsed as he and fellow firefighters with Ladder 6 worked to rescue people on September 11.
He was trapped for hours, but still returned to work on the pile for months afterwards. A few months after that, his hips started to hurt.
"The right hip went from a little painful to 'rip this thing our right now and replace it," he recalled. "It was just unbelievable. I couldn't sleep at night. I couldn't do anything."
After a series of exams and x-rays it became clear that both of Bill's hips were arthritic and needed replacing.
Dr. Nakul Karkare said that in young patients it's often ideal to have both hips done at the same time.
"The other unique thing about young patients is that we are able to do both joints at the same time because of the very little medical problems that they have," Dr. Karkare said.
Improved materials and designs in modern joint replacements mean they will last much longer -- often 20 years or more.
There is another key to long-lasting replacement.
"It's critically important to position the components correctly," Dr. Karkare said.
Helping orthopedic surgeons precisely align joint implants is a robot called Mako. It allows exact pre-op planning as well as helping the surgeon decide on the best placement in the operating room
It's worked wonders for Bill Butler who now walks 3 miles a day, without any of the burning pain he used to experience.
The rehab -- when both hips or knees are done at the same time is longer, and the surgery is longer, but it gets everything done at once, and send patients back to a pain-free life.
Not everyone is a candidate for this, but the message is; you don't have to suffer as a young person because your joint replacement will last.
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