“I was born with congenital hip dysplasia (hip dislocation) and, as I grew up, the wear and tear in my hip resulted in arthritis and chronic pain. I would be in so much pain that even sleeping was a struggle. I remember it got to a point where I couldn't do everyday tasks such as putting on shoes or getting into a car without screaming with pain,” she recalled.
In a normal hip, the ball at the upper end of the thigh-bone (femur) fits firmly into the socket, which is part of the large pelvis bone. In babies and children with developmental dysplasia, the hip joint has not formed normally, resulting in premature wear and tear of the hip bone.
Clarke, who is a mother of four, was only 38 when she went for her hip replacement seven years ago.
“It was shortly after the 2010 Soccer World Cup that I decided 'this is it'. I was carrying my 18-month-old baby and walking around the park when I realised that I couldn't carry on anymore. The pain was so excruciating that, when I got home, I burst into tears.
"I remember taking part in the 2.5km World Cup fan walk it was such a struggle for me to do that walk that I felt like giving up because the pain was so overbearing,” she recalled.
Fast-forward to 2017: Clarke admits that living a pain-free life for the past 7 years still feels surreal.
“For the first time after my hip replacement surgery I was pain free. After living with pain for so many years it still feels unreal that I'm now pain free. I still find myself avoiding certain moves because of the pain I used to feel then,” she said.
Not only can she play with her children without worrying about them bumping her hip, but Clarke has also been so liberated by her hip replacement surgery that early this year she started running so much so that she took part in the 11km Two Oceans Trail Run for the first time.
Clarke now wants other less privileged arthritis sufferers to also live pain-free lives and, since February, she has been running not only to get fit, but for charity purposes.
Through a fundraising initiative called The Hip Sisters, that she and her sister, Nicci Cloete Annette, started, the two have been raising money to fund hip replacement surgeries.
And their dream of helping the destitute has now come true - thanks to the Nelson Mandela Day surgery initiative spearheaded by the provincial Department of Health to perform free surgeries for the province’s public sector patients.
Through the Hip Sisters initiative the two sisters - both avid runners - have raised more than R41 000, which they have donated towards the Mandela Day initiative.
The department, which has partnered with the private sector and NGOs, will perform a series of life-changing surgeries that will see 67 patients getting either cataract or arthroplasty (hip and knee joint) surgeries within the space of a month.
The initiative, of which Independent Media is a media partner, will see 40 patients receiving free cataract surgeries, and 27 people getting joint operations from various public hospitals in the province, at a cost of almost R1million.
Ordinarily, these patients would have to wait for up to two years for such surgeries due to the long waiting list for elective surgeries in the public sector.
Clarke says she hopes that recipients of the surgeries through the Mandela Day initiative will experience the similar sense of freedom she is enjoying.
“While hip replacement is not a life-saving surgery, it is definitely life-changing. Not only do you live a pain-free life post-surgery, but it also has great economic knock-offs. A person who was unable to work can go back to work after the surgery and earn an income again.
"In my experience, arthritis had been such a disabling condition not only was I in pain, but I was grumpier and highly irritable. Not being able to play with, or hold, my children was probably the worst experience,” she said.
Not only is she now able to play with her kids and do fun walks without any of pain, "but being able to run and help others in the process is really a bonus for me”.
Cloete Annette said being part of the Mandela Day initiative was an "honour".
“When we started fundraising as Hip Sisters we had such humble expectations. To see us being part of such as big project is really humbling people that donated towards our fundraising initiative will now see where their money is going,” she said.
Now the two sisters are setting their sights on the gruelling Helderberg Mountain Challenge in August, in the hope of raising more funds for hip replacements for the destitute.
Anyone who wishes to donate towards the Mandela Day surgery project can transfer funds to the Groote Schuur Hospital Facilities Board Account:
First National Bank
Account number: 62478395306
Swift code: FIRNZAJJ
Reference with #Mandela67#
For more information go to the Groote Schuur Hospital Board’s website: https://www.gshfb.co.za/donate-page