Tiffany Vargas with her husband Abel Vargas and daughter Abby after a Tigers game.

Last year Tiffany Vargas, 38, was surprised to find herself as coach for the “Tigers,” her daughter Abby’s west Knoxville softball team for 8- to 10-year-olds.

“I came to the sport late in life. I didn’t even like softball as a kid!” Vargas said with a laugh. But the team needed a coach and Vargas, who had previously served as the “dugout mom,” stepped up to the plate. She soon discovered that she was having a lot of fun as coach.

“We just had the best time. We didn’t have the best track record, but we weren’t the worst, either,” said Vargas. “I would rather the girls have a good time, not focusing on winning or losing, but working on skills. The wins will come.”

However, as Vargas practiced skills with the girls, severe pain flared up in her right hip every time she played catcher and bent down to catch the ball. While at a physical therapy appointment for another issue, the therapist suggested some stretches.

“I couldn’t even do them without crying,” said Vargas. “Every time I would rotate my hip, I had acute pain.”

Vargas saw an orthopedic specialist who referred her to Conrad Ivie, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Parkwest Medical Center. Dr. Ivie diagnosed a hip impingement, which is a bony overgrowth on the ball structure of the hip, and a tear in her labrum, which is the cartilage ring that runs around the rim of the hip socket.

Athletes who twist their torsos in sports such as ice hockey, soccer, football, golf and ballet are at higher risk of developing a tear in the hip labrum. A hip impingement can also lead to labrum damage.

“Hip impingement is a common problem.  It typically affects people in their teenage years through their 40s,” said Dr. Ivie.

Vargas was a candidate for arthroscopy, a minimally invasive hip repair procedure which involves only two or three small incisions. Patients usually return home the same day.

“Patients who are a good candidate for hip arthroscopy do exceptionally well with this surgery and have a rapid recovery,” said Dr. Ivie, who performed the procedure on Vargas last November.

Using a tiny camera called an arthroscope, Dr. Ivie made two incisions at the front of Vargus’s hip joint. The camera displayed images on a video monitor, and Dr. Ivie used those images to guide small surgical instruments.

“The surgery is performed with two or three small ‘poke holes’ around the hip,” said Dr. Ivie. “We worked through these portals to put stitches into the labrum and repair it back to its native attachment. We also used the portals to shave away any abnormal bony overgrowth. These minimally invasive techniques are designed to help preserve a patient’s hip and hopefully avoid hip replacement.”

“I had two tiny cuts, one-inch long. I was just stunned by how small they were,” said Vargas. “Everybody told me recovery would be so awful and painful. I’ve had a couple of days that were bad and some movements that create pain, but in general it has not been bad at all.”

Vargas was on crutches for two weeks and then began 10 weeks of physical therapy at Parkwest Therapy Center. Dr. Ivie said he prescribes physical therapy for all his hip surgery patients.

“Phil Bevins was my physical therapist. Everybody at Parkwest Therapy Center is just so nice and they treat you like you’re family,” said Vargas. “Phil would tell me the things I needed to be doing, what I could expect, what’s normal and not normal [during recovery].”

Vargas said she would recommend Parkwest Medical Center and Parkwest Therapy Center to anyone facing orthopedic surgery. “The care I received was excellent,” she said. During therapy, “Phil recognized my inability to sit still and not be outside and play. He customized exercises I could do to get back to doing the things I love.”

Vargas is manager of the business office at Peninsula, the behavioral health division of Parkwest Medical Center, and walks regularly on her lunch break. While she is still not cleared to bat or pitch a softball, Vargas has already been outside with the Tigers for spring practice.

“I’m an active person. When it’s nice out I love to be outside. I want to instill that in my kids,” she said.

Vargas has even set a goal of running in the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon 5K at the end of March. “I told Phil that I wanted to run in the 5K, and he said I should be able to do it – I had seven weeks to get ready!”