More than 15 years ago, Dr. John Heinrich reached his first career goal: climbing the sports medicine ladder to become team physician for the Milwaukee Brewers, then the Milwaukee Admirals.
For the last six years, he has been the team orthopaedic surgeon for the Milwaukee Bucks.
In addition to that high level of accomplishment, Heinrich has found a new passion for performing state-of-the-art arthroscopic hip surgery. Some of Heinrich’s patients have experienced unremitting pain for 10 to 20 years. Their hips lock up, and they can’t get out of chairs or off the toilet.
When Heinrich takes their pain away, they see him as a Health Care Hero.
“Using an outpatient procedure, I’ve been able to go in with a simple scope, fix the problem and a majority of the time, the patient’s pain is immediately gone,” he said.
“Ever since I started operating arthroscopically, I’ve had a knack for it,” Heinrich said of the eye-hand coordination needed to determine angles and perform the difficult procedure. “Taking my experience with the arthroscope, my love for the arthroscopy and the challenge of the hip arthroscopy, I’ve decided to become an expert, and it’s my new career goal.”
Heinrich has been doing hip arthroscopy for 10 years. Over the past three years, a lot of good research completed in Europe is making its way to the United States.
“If you’re putting fractures together with bolts, it’s like woodworking, but with arthroscopy you have a fiber-optic scope that goes through a hole and into the joint,” he said. “You basically have the joint in front of you and your hand on the camera, while your other hand is on the instrument you use to operate. You’re doing all this while looking up at a TV screen, which is the window to perform the surgery.”
Heinrich downplayed the comparison of his skills to those used for three-dimensional video games, but confirmed he is refining his techniques and exploring a new frontier.
“It’s amazing how many people have gone untreated for so long, basically because we didn’t know how to treat them,” he said.
Over the past year and a half, Heinrich has compared notes with a doctor in New York who is doing similar groundbreaking surgery, including arthroscopic repair of the abductor tendons.
“There are a lot of people with hip pain being treated as a bursitis, when they are really tears that can be seen in an MRI, and they can be fixed without making a large incision by just using a scope,” he said.
Megan Batha, a physical therapist with the Milwaukee Bucks, nominated Heinrich for the Health Care Heroes Award.
“He’s an athlete and can relate pretty well to what kids and players are going through,” she said, describing Heinrich as humble, a good family man and an accomplished doctor who is always trying to improve his skills.
Richard Gaul of Oconomowoc is just one of Heinrich’s success stories. Gaul suffered a partially torn abductor muscle on his left hip while playing football with his son. After several years of cortisone shots and dealing with returning pain, Gaul met with Heinrich, who then performed an arthroscopic procedure to repair the damage.
“I was impressed with his enthusiasm and his the fire-in-the-belly approach,” said Gaul, who now is walking and running normally.
“The bottom line is there are a significant number of hip problems being diagnosed that can be treated arthroscopically. It’s just a matter now of finding the people who need help and spreading the word,” Heinrich said.