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Out of Africa

Posted on August 22, 2019 in Orthopedics

Hip patient, surgeon share life lessons

Dr. Paul Yau and Caroline MooneyFor Caroline Mooney, it was a lesson learned from her father back home in Africa.

“My daddy said when you’re in need and somebody helps you, all you have to do to show your appreciation is to love them,” said the 60-year-old Knoxville woman who left Liberia two decades ago.

That is why Paul Yau, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, can sometimes be seen wearing a scrub cap with a distinctive African flair. The cap is Mooney’s handmade gift of gratitude for relieving her back pain with a hip replacement that put her back to work quickly.

“I did it because I wanted to say thank you and because he did such a good job,” she said. “I just wanted to give him something to remind him of me.”

“That cap means a lot to me,” said Dr. Yau, who spent much of his early career as a medical missionary with the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons mending bones in Cameroon. “But I don’t think I need a scrub cap to remember her.”

Although Mooney works for Fort Sanders Regional’s food services department catering hospital events, physician lunches, meetings and other functions, it wasn’t until she came to him for her back pain that they discovered mutual African ties.

“She was really miserable,” recalled Dr. Yau. “She couldn’t push a cart, she couldn’t load all the trays, and she couldn’t do all the lifting she needed to do her job.”

After injections and therapy didn’t help, Dr. Yau ordered an MRI which revealed torn cartilage, arthritis and a torn labrum.

“When you have a number of problems, sometimes the easiest thing is to start fresh,” said Dr. Yau. “So it seems logical to me that when your hip is 60 years old and you’ve got three problems you can either go through three different procedures or start with a new joint. In her situation, it made sense to start fresh.”

Dr. Yau recommended an anterior hip replacement which is easier on patients because tendons and muscles are spared. Mooney received her new hip March 13, spent three nights in the hospital, a month in rehab and is now back at work moving at a pace few can match.

 “Dr. Yau is on top of things. I guess that’s why I recovered so much faster,” said Mooney. “I have to tell people about this man. He is good! More important, he listens. He and his physician’s assistant, Hannah Mabry, they listen. When they finish talking, they take a break and give you a chance to ask questions. The whole staff was fantastic.”

Now when he sees Mooney rushing about Fort Sanders Regional, Dr. Yau is reminded of his missionary work in Africa and why he entered medicine.

“The reason I went into this practice was to relieve suffering, to help people live life and live it to the fullest,” he said. “Having spent a huge portion of my early career pretty much in the heart of Africa really changes the way you see life, the way you see people, the way you practice medicine.

“So that scrub cap really means something to me. When I see Caroline kick off and motor around the hospital, it gives me a sense of joy that I’ve been able to fulfill the reason or the purpose of why I am here. It makes what I’ve done really fun, and that’s kind of cool.”