“My physical activity is directly related to my mental health — Dr. Mauro and Ashley working together helped me get that back.” — Katie
Katie is an active wife and mother of three with a passion for physical fitness. Katie is an athlete. On a gloomy fall day in 2016, 37-year-old Katie was running mile 800 of her year-long 1,000-mile challenge when her right hip began to hurt. The pain wasn’t so bad at first, and she was determined to complete the challenge, so that’s exactly what she did despite increasing pain with every stride. Katie took a much-needed break over the holidays to rejuvenate, but when she hit the pavement for her first run of 2017, she couldn’t do it—the pain was unbearable. That’s when a friend referred her to Craig S. Mauro, MD, founder of the Hip Preservation Program at UPMC Orthopaedic Care.
Katie’s symptoms included catching and locking in the groin, pain in the groin that wrapped around to the back of the hip, reduction in range of motion of the hip, and immense inflammation; her mental health was similarly deteriorating due to her inability to exercise. Not only was her livelihood broken, but she experienced three bouts of strep throat while injured, which certainly didn’t help. She expressed that she hadn’t had the best experience with medical professionals in the past, saying they never looked up from her chart, but was relieved after her first appointment with Dr. Mauro. “He sat down, turned toward me, looked me in the eye, and listened to me. He repeated back what I said and asked how I was feeling. Dr. Mauro cared about how I felt physically and emotionally. He really heard me,” Katie says.
Given Katie’s symptoms, Dr. Mauro examined her hip and diagnosed her with a hip labral tear and femoroacetabular impingement (FAI). He called in Ashley Young Disantis, DPT, for another look. “He looked at her and said, ‘What do you think?’. I could tell that he really respected her opinion,” Katie says. For more than a year, Katie worked closely with Dr. Mauro, Ashley, and the Hip Preservation Program team on several nonsurgical treatments. “I really appreciated that Dr. Mauro didn’t push surgery,” Katie says. “I went to see Ashley, who I think is phenomenal, and we tried everything we could before turning to surgery.” Nonsurgical treatments included platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections, physical therapy, herbs and supplements, and even acupuncture. While these treatments are sufficient in treating some hip conditions, Katie’s condition was such that they only helped her get so far. “Ultimately, these treatments helped me to a certain extent, but I still couldn’t perform, so we came to a point where surgery was necessary to get me back to where I needed to be,” says Katie.
In October 2018, Dr. Mauro performed Katie’s hip arthroscopy at UPMC St. Margaret. The surgery was a success, but Katie’s challenges were far from over. What would follow was four weeks of using crutches and several months of physical therapy with Ashley at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Katie expressed that Ashley’s expertise, support, and friendship helped her get through what she described as a “frightening time”. Over those months of physical therapy, Katie did many band exercises, clam shells, bridges, monster walks, and other exercises to regain the strength in her hip. “Taking away that second crutch to actually walk again was frightening, but Ashley was so reassuring, comforting, and strong,” Katie says. “I wasn’t secure in myself and was very emotional, so the quality of time spent really mattered. It was professional, but also personal.”
The months during and following physical therapy were perhaps the most difficult for Katie, but she shares that the challenges she faced and the strength that was necessary to make a full recovery made her a better wife, mother, friend, and athlete than she ever had been. Her family was so supportive during the entire process. “My kids saw me at my lowest point,” Katie says. “My oldest daughter had to help me with everything. Looking back, I needed her to see that. I needed her to see that I couldn’t do the most basic things at one point, but that I could still cross the finish line.” Her successful recovery allowed her to be active with her family once again.
Her friends and fellow athletes were equally supportive during these challenging times. Katie is a co-founder of a casual running group of about 20 moms in Oakmont who run a few times a week. Not only is this a great group to exercise with, Katie shared, but it is a fantastic break and therapy session for everyone. “Having emotional conversations is often easier while running side-by-side, and I can’t thank Dr. Mauro and Ashley enough for helping me get that back. Joining the group again was such a powerful force in my life,” Katie says. She has also resumed her job as a yoga instructor and has added some new activities to her fitness regimen.
Fast forward to the time of Katie’s interview in February 2020, and she is 40 years young and at the top of her game. “I’m doing things that I never in a million years thought I could do,” Katie exclaims. She shared that her running nearly every day of the week likely led to her hip injury, so she has learned to diversify her exercise, which is best for the body. Now, Katie typically runs twice a week and enjoys diverse exercises on the other days. These include biking local trails, swimming, and practicing yoga at the studio she co-owns in Oakmont. “To be honest, being injured helped me, and it changed my life,” Katie shares. “I feel stronger than I ever have, I listen to my body now, and I’m an all-around better athlete than I was before.”
With this newfound strength, Katie has registered for some of the most elite competitions in the world in 2020. She plans to compete in the South Beach Triathlon in Miami in April, she’ll bike the gap trail for 400 miles from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. in June, and Katie will compete in a Half Ironman Triathlon in Delaware, Ohio in July. With some of her favorite activities coming up and her hip feeling better than it ever has, Katie’s physical and mental health are in great shape. “My physical activity is directly related to my mental health — Dr. Mauro and Ashley working together helped me get that back,” Katie says.
When asked what advice she’d give to someone going through a similar time in their life, Katie simply stated, “Go see Dr. Mauro and Ashley. I would one-hundred percent send anyone to them.” She talked about her surprise and delight at how well-run and smooth this process was for her and stressed that she shouldn’t have been so hard on herself throughout it. She urges others to give themselves a break and trust the process—no one heals by rushing through it. Finally, Katie says, “if you’re questioning it, just go. We have UPMC here, and their level of care was beyond anything I expected. I’m grateful to live in a city like Pittsburgh where we have such excellent health care.” Here at UPMC, we’re similarly grateful to have treated an inspirational person like Katie and wish her the best of luck in her upcoming competitions.