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Hip Surgeries Put Teen on the Path to Recovery, More Active Lifestyle

Kenneth and his dad, Paul, at Bengals practice.

Kenneth has always enjoyed spending time with his father, Paul, during Cincinnati Bengals' practices.

Kenneth Sparling Has Undergone Six Surgeries, Including a Hip Replacement, Due to Bilateral Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease (LCPD) 

Kenneth was only 3 years old when signs of a potential hip issue were first identified. 

It was a Saturday afternoon and he was running and playing on the football field of Paul Brown Stadium where his dad, Paul, is the head trainer for the Cincinnati Bengals. One of the assistant athletic trainers noticed something was off with Kenneth’s running gait – a discreet limp, which proved to be much more. 

“It tipped him off that there was something going on,” said Paul. “So I put (Kenneth) on the training room table. Checked his range of motion and I could tell it was not symmetrical.” 

X-rays and a preliminary hip diagnosis followed a few days later but given Kenneth’s young age doctors chose a wait-and-see approach. His parents were told to monitor Kenneth and to limit certain activities as a precautionary measure. 

Growing up, Kenneth played football and baseball and did all the things a healthy boy would normally do. But the now 18-year-old admits he never felt “normal” and would compensate as needed when issues with his hip arose – like when he played catcher on his youth baseball team and would stick his leg out straight to mitigate the hip pain, instead of squatting with both knees tucked as is customary for the position.  

A switch to third base helped ease the pain, but Paul knew that as his son got older and bigger a more permanent solution would be needed. 

From his connections within the orthopaedics community, Paul learned about the excellent reputation of Patrick Whitlock, MD, and was excited to have him see Kenneth through our Hip Preservation Program. 

“The key is they can handle complex cases,” said Paul. 

And as it turned out, Kenneth’s case proved to be complex. 

While the initial symptoms had started on Kenneth's right side, over time they had developed on his left side as well. X-rays at Cincinnati Children’s showed the left side appeared worse than the right, but Kenneth was complaining more about pain and discomfort he felt on this right side. 

The question soon became: Which side should be corrected first? 

Treating the Patient, Not the X-ray

His parents, Paul and Karen, said they were thankful the Cincinnati Children’s medical team saw their son as a patient, and not just a chart or an X-ray. 

“Dr. Whitlock was great about talking it out,” said Paul. “He asked us, ‘Which do we want to do?’ And we listened to Kenneth and made sure he understood he was part of the decision-making process.”

“It was pleasing to hear,” added Kenneth. “Like I wasn’t being left out.” 

Eventually, he was diagnosed with bilateral Legg-Calve-Perthes disease (LCPD), and periacetabular osteotomy (PAO) surgery was the agreed upon course of action. But first Paul wanted to get a second opinion, just like he would advise for one of his players. With “parental due diligence" in mind, he reached out to another hip specialist who echoed Dr. Whitlock’s assessment. The only difference: Based on the X-rays, the second specialist wanted to perform surgery on the left side first, followed by the right.

The choice became obvious: Given Kenneth’s strong preference to have his right side corrected first in order to ease the pain, the family decided to have Dr. Whitlock perform the surgery. 

“It just made so much more sense. Where we are treating the patient, not the X-ray,” said Paul. 

Taking Kenneth’s pain into consideration, Dr. Whitlock knew it would be a more difficult rehab following surgery on the left side if his patient was still experiencing more pain on the right. 

“We also felt that the right had the best chance of being preserved and therefore wanted to treat it first given the considerable pathology in the left,” said Whitlock. 

Successful Surgery, Looking to the Future

The first surgery was a success, followed by a fairly easy, issue-free recovery process. The second surgery was done a year later, but became compromised after Kenneth and his dad were in a car accident soon after the surgery. 

Complications and multiple surgeries followed, eventually resulting in a hip replacement performed by Joel Sorger, MD, in July 2019.

Looking back, both Paul and Karen say they are proud of how far their son has come. And with the surgeries behind him, they know he has so much farther to go.  

“He has been through more in his first 17 years than most in 60 years,” said Paul. “He’s not where he wants to be yet, but he’s moving in that direction.” 

And to get there, Kenneth – who is thinking about studying mechanical drawing at college next year – knows he can’t ignore the physical therapy and must buckle down as a patient. 

“I’m sort of bad as a patient. I kind of slack off. But I’m learning,” he admits. “I’ve been sitting and waiting for it to come to me, and now I know I have to attack it to get better.” 

Kenneth in his Bengals uniform.

Kenneth has always loved football, but his current sport of choice is bowling. He will graduate from Holy Cross High School (in Covington,Ky.) this spring, where he is a member of the bowling team. 

He is contemplating a start at Gateway Community & Technical College next fall before eventually advancing to Northern Kentucky University

He and his family live in Hebron, Ky. 

Kenneth in his youth football uniform.