When Duane Weber saw an X-ray of his left hip, he knew something wasn’t right. He had been an avid runner since he was 15 years old and had spent 35 years on his feet working for the National Park Service. But while the evidence in front of him indicated he needed a new hip – and his active career and lifestyle could explain some of the deterioration – Duane was hesitant to schedule surgery.
“It was really a shock to me,” Duane said. “I had never had any kind of surgery. And I was also a lifelong athlete realizing that parts of me were wearing out.” Duane, now retired, said he logged over 500 miles on his feet every year for his job, mostly in Wind Cave National Park. He tracked elk herds in the Southern Hills, and because most of his work was disease research, he usually carried his mobile laboratory wherever he went – which meant a lot of extra weight on his joints.
A few years ago, Duane decided to tell his primary care physician in Custer, Lisa Brown, M.D., about the pain he was experiencing. “When I went on my longer runs, it just wasn’t as comfortable. I figured it was just aches and pains from getting older.” Imaging results told a different story. Because Duane was in such good physical condition otherwise, he hadn’t noticed how bad his hip was deteriorating.
Dr. Brown referred him to Orthopedic Surgeon Paul Miller, M.D., in Rapid City. “The consensus was not whether I needed a new hip, but when,” he said. Duane wasn’t ready to have surgery. “Dr. Miller could sense my hesitation and knew I wasn’t keen on pursuing the surgical option. He never made me feel pressured. He just said, ‘When you’re ready, you let me know.’”
Duane went on for another year and a half, chasing elk, hunting, fishing, hauling firewood, etc. “It wasn’t getting any better, and it was starting to impact my choices. But 60 years old was too early to start giving up on all the activities I wanted to do.” He went back to Dr. Miller, and his hip was replaced in December 2018.
Duane is grateful for Dr. Miller’s patience and demeanor as a physician. “He never made me feel like he was in a hurry, he always had time.” But most notably, Duane remembers that right before surgery, Dr. Miller allowed him a moment to talk with the surgical staff. “I was able to introduce myself as a 60-year-old grandfather and wildlife biologist who wanted to return out into the field. I wanted them to know they were working on Duane Weber.”
Another moment he’ll always remember is how one caregiver, sensing his nerves, put her hand on his upper arm as he was being put to sleep, and told him he’d be well taken care of. told him.” “To a guy who really doesn’t understand what’s going on, that was really comforting.”
Four months after surgery, Duane summited Chupadera Mountain in New Mexico during a national wildlife refuge volunteer trip. His group was collecting botany samples and wasn’t planning to go to the top, but Duane knew he had to continue. “I wasn’t going to go that far without going to the top. And away I went.”
Duane might be retired, but he doesn’t plan on slowing down. He’s going to keep climbing mountains.