Cecily Sawyer Harmon and Sandy Hitchens’ Recovery Success Stories

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Cecily Sawyer Harmon and Sandy Hitchens walked in step to meet me for our interview. They first met years ago in Shelly Santoro’s early morning Deep Water Aqua Fitness class, and as Shelly’s students tend to do, they have since grown to become good friends. Coincidentally, after having surgery just one month apart from each other, these ladies also underwent parallel journeys to recovery. While Cecily’s been acclimating to her newly replaced right hip, Sandy’s been adjusting to a new right knee. Now just six months post-op Sandy and Cecily move exceptionally, and they each have their wonderful experiences with Elite Physical Therapy and Aqua Fitness to thank.

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Cecily Sawyer Harmon (left) and Sandy Hitchens (right) on the HAC pool deck

Cecily’s hip replacement surgery happened this past May. She began feeling relatively minor aches in her right hip in late 2017. Her then-upcoming trip to Jerusalem made her even more anxious to quickly fix whatever was causing her pain, so she turned to her doctor for help. When she learned that that barely noticeable discomfort was being caused by bone-on-bone grinding, it came as a shock. She made her surgery appointment right away.

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Sandy’s surgery came one month after Cecily’s in June, but for Sandy, the pain she felt leading up to her knee replacement had been much more long-term. Her knee issues began with torn cartilage at just 15 years old, and she’d been feeling the excruciating force of her bone-on-bone knee pain the past ten years. “It’s been a long process of deterioration,” Sandy says, “and because of my age, my doctor just wanted to wait as long as possible so I would hopefully not have to do multiple replacements.” She’s been a member of the club for a long time, but in the past several years the soreness in her knee had become more and more acute, forcing her to drop many of her favorite group fitness classes. Simultaneously, she was spending much of her energy tending to her mother, whose health was progressively growing worse throughout 2017. After her mother’s passing, Sandy knew it was time to finally fix her failing knee once and for all.

Aqua Fitness Aid

Sandy and Cecily both underwent their respective replacement surgeries in mid-2018 with no lack of support from the other swimmers in their Deep Water Aqua Fitness class. They both received lots of texts, emails, and phone calls from friends checking in to make sure both women were doing all right. “Everyone is so friendly and cares about one another,” Cecily says, “You know, when someone is sick or something, we send flowers, we send cards.” To have been on the receiving end was especially comforting for Cecily.  Sandy concurs, adding that “you typically wouldn’t text your instructor or classmates to let them know when you won’t be in class, but that’s the expectation in Shelly’s class.”

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Sandy working out in Shelly’s Deep Water aqua fitness class

Sandy and Cecily both see Aqua Fitness instructor, Shelly Santoro as an invaluable ally and resource not just after their surgeries, but for the whole time they’ve been attending her classes. Shelly frequently checked in to see how both women were doing in the weeks following their surgeries and to make sure both ladies knew they were being thought of by everyone in their class. She even brought them each delicious homemade food while they recovered. The pre-surgery prep was also made easier by Shelly’s aid; once she knew about their respective procedures, she helped by focusing their workouts in class to help build strength around Cecily’s hip and Sandy’s knee. “The love and support I received, especially dealing with my mom [was incredible]” Sandy remembers fondly. Then when they returned to classes eight weeks after their surgeries, Shelly welcomed them back in the best way: with a rigorous water workout.

Elite Physical Therapy

“We’re both crossing our legs [sitting here]. Rudy would not be happy,” Sandy chimes in giggling at this point in our conversation. They both shuffle to correct their positions. Rudy Rudawsky and his colleagues are the other major players that Sandy and Cecily have to thank for their smooth recoveries. Rudy had worked his physical therapy magic with at least one of both Sandy and Cecily’s kids when they encountered sports-related injuries years ago. He also spent a decade as a soccer coach for Cecily’s youngest son. Needless to say, he was already a trusted friend to both women before he began working with them after each of their surgeries. While Sandy and Cecily feel that all of the staff at Elite PT were wonderful to work with, they would especially like to thank Rudy and his team members Cody Hafner and Chris Vodzark for their time and expertise. It was because of these three that the rehab for Sandy’s knee and Cecily’s hip was so successful.

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Cecily and Rudy in Elite PT

While both women knew the extreme benefit they were getting by participating in physical therapy, they still found themselves longing to get back to the water. Even though their doctors would have cleared them to return to the water six weeks post-op, it was Rudy who pushed them to wait an additional two weeks to avoid any risk of infection. Sandy and Cecily sometimes had joint PT sessions together because getting a time slot with Rudy could be very difficult, but being able to enjoy his company and each other’s while going through the healing process was all the better. They worked out together, kept each other informed on their progress, and stuck through those eight weeks counting down the days until they could jump back into Shelly’s classes.

What Made the Difference

Aqua Fitness was the primary reason for their speedy and easy recoveries after surgery. Cecily and Sandy each recognize the importance of total-body strength before and after going through a replacement procedure. All of the muscles around the bones being replaced have to be strong; aqua Fitness helped Sandy and Cecily gain the immense strength that allowed them to recover so quickly. “[We were] very successful because [we] worked out ahead of time,” Sandy and Cecily agree. Having Shelly’s targeted workouts to help them gain strength in the specific areas that were to be operated on was definitely a huge help, but they found Aqua Fitness exercise as a whole to be beneficial. “You see this muscle,” Cecily grins, flashing a full bicep, “this is all from water aerobics. Really!” She didn’t even have to use a walker after her hip replacement; thanks to the muscle mass she’d accumulated prior, a cane was enough to keep her mobile and comfortable.

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There have been changes in the maneuverability of both women since their surgeries. For Cecily, jumping straight up or standing from a low seat takes more time and effort than it previously did. Sandy still has some swelling and clicking in her knee, but she now has the ability to kneel, something she hasn’t been able to do in years. Cecily and Sandy are still adjusting to their new replacements, but regardless of the differences they feel in their movements, to everyone else the changes appear tremendously positive. “When I tell [people] I had my hip replaced six months ago, they can’t believe it,” Cecily says. Sandy chimes in, “I was suffering for so many years, and my friends are like ‘I can’t believe you’ve been able to do as much as you have been doing.’” Both women have had phenomenal experiences with their replacement surgeries, and they feel it is necessary to attribute their huge successes to Shelly, Rudy, and all their wonderful Deep Water classmates for the smooth recoveries they’ve experienced.


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