Lee Olibas is happy to have a 6-inch titanium shaft in his left thigh bone.
“No pain,” the 69-year-old Santa Rosa man said Thursday, a day after hip replacement surgery at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital rid him of an arthritis-ravaged joint.
Olibas said he’d been “in terrible pain” nonstop for the past month, since X-rays revealed the ball of his femur, or thigh bone, and the socket in his hip had lost their naturally cushioning cartilage and were rubbing “bone against bone.”
He’s an example of the No. 1 reason why people are admitted to Sonoma County hospitals for treatment of ailments ranging from life-threatening heart attacks and infections to seizures, strokes, broken bones, asthma and headaches.
A total of 38,232 patients were admitted to the county’s seven acute-care hospitals last year, a number nearly equal to the population of Rohnert Park. Major joint replacement — including hips, knees and some shoulders — was the reason for 1,953 hospitalizations, the largest single group of ailments, according to a report by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
Septicemia, a serious bloodstream infection, was a close second on the list of ailments, accounting for 1,934 hospitalizations, far ahead of the third- and fourth-leading causes — esophagitis and other digestive disorders (712 hospitalizations) and pneumonia (709).
Sonoma County’s hospitals were a source of joy for the largest group of patients: about 5,000 women who gave birth.
The figures are for hospital patients receiving acute care and do not include emergency room visits or care for chemical dependency recovery, physical rehabilitation, psychiatric conditions or skilled nursing services.
The 20 leading reasons for hospitalization — with the exception of appendectomy and cellulitis (tissue infection) — are largely consequences of aging, local physicians said, in a county with a so-called “gray tsunami” of about 81,000 residents age 60 and over, making up more than 16 percent of the total population.
The same group of older adults accounted for more than 35 percent of total acute-care hospitalizations, said Dr. Karen Holbrook, the county’s interim health officer.
By 2020, 1 in 5 county residents will be 65 and older, according to state projections.
Joint replacement and septicemia are both due to aging and part of nationwide trends.
“We have an aging and active population,” said Dr. Richard Carvolth, Memorial Hospital’s chief medical officer. “People’s joints are wearing out. They don’t want their lifestyle curtailed.”
Joint replacement hardware and surgical techniques are improving, reducing the operations’ risks and enhancing the outcomes, he said.
Hip replacement surgery started in 1960, followed by knee replacements in 1968, and both are considered among “the most successful procedures in all of medicine,” according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
More than 600,000 knee replacements and 285,000 hip replacements are done each year nationwide, the academy said.
As baby boomers age, “we know there will continue to be a steady flow of joint replacement surgery,” Carvolth said.
Patients typically are hospitalized for one or two days following joint replacement surgery. In Sonoma County, joint replacements accounted for 4.8 percent of all hospitalizations last year.
Septicemia is a generic term for severe infection caused by bacteria in the blood. It can be challenging to pinpoint the source of infection, which can arise from almost any point in the body, including the lungs, bladder, bowel, skin or soft tissue.