An experience in a Belgium hospital changes his life.
GIG HARBOR - Jeff Dullum has been through a lot in his life.
But nothing could compare to his experiences before and after having a live-changing surgery in a Belgium hospital back in 2003.
Dullum pulled up a shop bench at his Gig Harbor home recently and told a tale that led to him walking regularly again, and playing with his three kids without pain.
Dullum, 48, is a smart, happy-go-lucky guy that loves his wife, family, his dog, steaks, beer, and the Cougars.
He was raised in Port Orchard and excelled at sports, including playing football with WSU.
His dad was a contractor, so Dullum grew up with a hammer and a skill set he eventually parleyed into his own roofing business.
But sometime in the mid ‘90s, that came to a halt.
"Somewhere along the line, my pelvis twisted and wore out the cartilage in my hips. I needed new hips," he said flatly while taking a break from making custom furniture.
At the time, he had a limp, pain, and had a difficult time walking.
"I tried every specialist I could find. They gave me exercises to do, and told me that I was too young for a hip replacement," he added.
Dullum started a juice company and gimped around awhile, but the hip got progressively worse, inconvenient, and even more painful, he said.
He met his wife, Tracy Dullum, in 1996.
"Jeff could barley walk, and at times, it was tough for the entire family," she said. "Everyone that knew him felt sorry for him because of how much pain he was in."
In 1998, after more time and frustration with trying supplements to re-grow cartilage, he had an X-ray which showed that, indeed, he needed a new hip.
He dove into research. He landed on an Internet group where folks discussed their mutual hip issues. This data eventually led to a ticket to a Ghent, Belgium hospital.
He found something called the Birmingham Hip procedure, a unique operation not yet approved by the FDA.
Dullum said that with his age, the old-school hip replacement method would have given him some 10 years, before he would be needing another.
The system he chose had been successful in Europe for about 12 years running. Dullum's online friends boasted about the quality, care and consistency of a Belgian-based doctor named, Koen DeSmet.
Dullum said the procedure would keep the ball of his hip in place. DeSmet would add a metal cap to it, and it would roll into a receiving cup mounted on his pelvis.
"Instead of removing the ball and driving a metal stake down the femur, they would just cover your hip with a metal cap. This was less invasive, and would last longer," he added with a grin.
After seeing Dullum's X-rays, his overseas doc suggested doing both hips.
Dullum borrowed $20,000, and 45 days later (in January of 2003) he was off to a university hospital in Belgium.
"It was in a town that had many castles. It was all European, medieval-like, and just really cool," he said.
Another American checked into the bed next to him, and the two became hospital roommates. They were both having the same bilateral hip surgery.
The two bonded quickly. The got their tests done together, "joking around the whole time as much as we could," Dullum said.
One after another, the two went under the knife, and soon thereafter, rolled out with four bionic hips.
During recovery is when Dullum found out his roommate, John Meharg, was an ER physician that lived and worked in San Francisco.
"He was very familiar with the terms and what was going on, and the fact that he choose the procedure was way comforting."
Dullum described the day they met their persnickety nurse -- unaware of the lasting impression.
He said the two of them would watch TV and get a little loopy, especially with triggers to their own morphine pumps, he said.
Their head nurse was named Gilbert. Dullum said he was a tall, elderly fellow with a receding hairline, and was very stoic and unemotional. Meharg dubbed him "Count Gilbert," and they both called him that (with a sub rosa giggle) the rest of their stay.
The gents soon went their separate ways, but keep in touch. Dullum was pain free and could walk and drive upon his return to Gig Harbor.
"My gait took a while to get, but after six weeks of rebuilding my muscles, it was pretty good. I must have fallen 150 times the first day, but I had more range of motion, and more strength than before.
"My kids were happy because I could play with them again. My son plays soccer. I couldn't even block his goals before. Now, I can kick his butt," he said.
Dullum said that he was very inspired by his experience and wanted to do something positive with it. He started taking guitar lessons, writing poetry and lyrics tied to his ordeal.
He collaborated with a drummer in another state who added live drum and bass to his tracks, and came up with reflective songs titled "Peel Me Apart," "Old Castle," "Doctor Toast," and others all under the name of Count Gilbert Music Publishing with a goal of selling rights to other artists.
"It's still a hobby, and an investment. I'm still trying to get a song placed in a film or TV commercial. It's just all fun," Dullum said.
He recently renamed his embroidery business to Count Gilbert Embroidery, and also started Count Gilbert Handcrafted Furniture.
IN THE GARAGE
Dullum twanged a set of amplified (playable) guitar strings he mounted to the sides of a table. He just smiled and said it's a way to be "green" and add moxie to his new product line he has on display at his wife's, 7700 Pioneer Way, Cougarwear sample sale store.
He said the stumpy tables run between from $200 to $450.
"They're heavy duty and each piece is made with love and distortion to last the life of your castle.
"I went to Belgium and it changed my life forever. And the name Count Gilbert is a tribute to my friend John, and the experience, and it's a way for me to honor how grateful I am," Dullum said.
For information, visit Count Gilbert.