Skip to Content

Back in the Driver's Seat

May 13, 2019 1:37 p.m.

Hip replacement surgeries help Don Madlem continue his journey.

Don met his wife, Phyllis, of 55 years when they were first-graders at Lincoln Elementary School in Charleston. They went all the way through school together, yet Don described having to “get up the nerve” to ask Phyllis out on a date their junior year of high school. Looking back, it seems the couple was destined to be together.

After Don and Phyllis graduated from Charleston High School in 1963, Phyllis insisted that they delay their marriage plans for a year until she completed nursing school. Two days after Phyllis received her LPN certification, the couple married.

Don and Phyllis worked as a team to raise their three children, and they shared hobbies over the years, as well. The Madlems were looking forward to retirement, to traveling and to pursing the kinds of big dreams that are put on hold when people are working and raising families, but their plans were interrupted by significant health issues.

To begin, Don’s heart valve had to be replaced to correct a congenital issue. Then a serious infection dealt them an unexpected blow, forcing another value replacement, an aorta arch replacement and a triple bypass. Phyllis said, “He wasn’t given much hope of surviving,” but the fighter in him pulled through. As time passed, it became obvious that Don needed hip replacement surgeries on both hips. Years of wear and tear as a truck driver— including both driving and jumping on and off of flatbed trucks— had taken their toll. (During that time, Don also served for 25 years as a volunteer with the Lincoln Fire Protection District, including leading the group as the chief.)

To say Don and Phyllis had been looking forward to a two-week winter vacation to Florida for more than a year was an understatement. Yet, it was not to be. Instead, Orthopedic Surgeon Donald Sandercock, DO, performed an outpatient hip replacement surgery using the anterior approach. The surgery was a success, but Don contracted an infection once he returned home in January 2018.

Eight months later, Don returned to have his right hip replaced, knowing fully what to expect. He sailed through the surgery and walked out of the hospital later that day. “It felt so good to go home and be in my own surroundings,” he conceded.

Phyllis took precautions to reduce the risk of infection while Donʼs incision healed, and their daughter, a Sarah Bush Lincoln surgical nurse, came by the house to change the bandages and “watch over him,” Phyllis said.

“I started physical therapy [PT] the following week, and my goal was to walk into Dr. Sandercock’s office two weeks later with just a cane,” Don said. “I loved those PT ladies. I walked in and Dr. Sandercock could hardly believe it. I was reminded of ‘safety first.’ I’m not hurting now!”

Don and Phyllis celebrated their many blessings, including Don’s improved health, with that two-week winter vacation to Florida, where he was able to walk on the beach, something he wasn’t able do the previous year. 

Their plans for the summer include attending antique tractor shows, at which they’ll display some of their more than 30 Massey Harris tractors. Don’s most prized possession is the 1940 Massey 101 Senior that belonged to his parents. He spends his time rebuilding tractors and getting them back into show condition. “It’s a family thing,” he explained. “We go to these shows for the fun of it. We love to get together with other collectors and have a good time.”

Phyllis is thrilled to have her husband back, so they can continue their life-long journey together. Reflecting on the surgical experience they had with Dr. Sandercock and the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Department, Phyllis said, “He just had excellent care.”

For more information or to make an appointment with any of the Sarah Bush Lincoln orthopedists, call 217 238-3435 for SBL Orthopedics & Sports Medicine or 217 342-3400 for the SBL Bonutti Clinic.


Next: Wire & Fire

Currently Reading: Back in the Driver's Seat

Previous: Sarah Bush Lincoln Golf Benefit Set for June 14