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Cutting-Edge Procedure Using Stem Cells Seen As Way To Avoid Hip Replacement Surgery

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- When you think of hip replacement, you probably picture an elderly person having surgery after taking a nasty fall.

But young people can also need hip replacement because of a condition that kills the hip bone.

CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez has more on a procedure using stem cells that can avoid hip replacement.

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Like most tissues in the human body, bones are formed by living cells, and like all cells, they need blood vessels to deliver nutrients and oxygen. Sometimes that delivery system fails due to a rare condition called avascular necrosis or AVN.

"Avascular necrosis means bone death. That happens due to lack of blood supply to the bone ... Patients who are in their 20s, 30s, and in their 40s. And that leads to deterioration of the hip that can need a hip replacement," said Dr. Nakul Karkare of Lenox Hill Hospital.

That's what happened to Tania Rodriguez. The 45-year-old was a physically active woman who suddenly developed searing hip pain.

"I didn't even realize there was anything wrong at all other than a little twing here and there within the hip. And then suddenly, I woke up and I couldn't stand," Rodriguez said.

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Her x-ray clearly showed that her hip was dying from AVN, a lack of blood. She had already had a full replacement in her other hip and really didn't want another. Then she found Dr. Karkare, who suggested a cutting edge way to avoid a replacement.

"I use the patient's own stem cells, concentrate them, and inject them into the hip using very small drill holes ... Leads to excellent regeneration of bone and cartilage," Karkare said.

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Rodriguez was able to avoid a replacement and is rehabbing her hip, getting back to full activity.

"I'm not using the wheelchair as much anymore and I'm not using the walker. Absolutely 100% worth it," she said.

Like most advanced techniques, selecting the right patient is what often determines success, plus determining the underlying cause of the AVN, like overuse of steroids, excessive alcohol intake, sickle cell disease and vitamin D deficiency.

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