The Versatile Dr. Alan Hinton

Andrea Mongler Thursday, April 20, 2017 Comments Off on The Versatile Dr. Alan Hinton
The Versatile Dr. Alan Hinton

He Can Raise Bees, Act And Dance And — Just Maybe — Find New Arthritis Treatments By Operating On Pigs

By Andrea Mongler

If you’ve heard of Dr. Alan Hinton, you probably know him as the orthopedic surgeon in private practice at Hinton Orthopedics. Though he does indeed spend much of his time replacing hips, shoulders and knees and treating sports injuries, that’s just part of the story.

Hinton is also a beekeeper, an actor and a dancer — not to mention a pig wrangler. He even has a hilarious video of himself running around in a lab coat among a group of pigs while the Benny Hill theme song plays.

The video is a joke, but Hinton’s work with pigs is serious. Along with Chip LeMieux, head of the Harold and Pearl Dripps School of Agricultural Sciences at McNeese, Hinton is studying meniscus injury and removal in pigs with the hope of developing improved techniques for treating meniscus injuries in humans.

Dr. Hinton operating on a pig

He chose to perform the research on pigs because their anatomy and immunology are very similar to those of human beings and they are technically easy to operate on. That’s in contrast to standard lab rats, which, he says, walk around with their knees bent and are difficult to operate on because they are so small.

The first part of the experiment involved basic research to show that the knee of a pig after meniscus surgery acts similarly to a human knee after the surgery. But the most important finding so far involves arthritis. When a person tears his or her meniscus — a piece of cartilage that cushions and stabilizes the knee joint — the result is pain and swelling in the knee.

Depending on the size and location of the tear, the meniscus may not heal on its own, in which case the treatment is to remove the tear. Doing so relieves the symptoms, but ultimately, arthritis will develop in the joint, Hinton says.

“In a human, it may take 15 or 20 years for the arthritis to develop,” he says. “The thing we’ve proved that’s really unique is that a pig gets arthritis just like a human does, but in the pig it only takes about four to six months. It’s an accelerated model for arthritis.”

In other words, he’s developed a model that can be used to experiment with ways to prevent arthritis after meniscus surgery, and the results can be observed much faster than in human beings. His ultimate goal is to find a treatment that can be successfully used in people.

So far, he’s tried a few things, including transplanting meniscus grafts from one pig to another and from cattle to pigs. He has also partnered with Dr. Jeffrey Gimble at the New Orleans BioInnovation Center to inject stem cells into pig knees in an attempt to regrow the meniscus. So far, the efforts have been unsuccessful. But Hinton has presented his findings at two conferences, and is working to secure funding to continue his research.

He emphasizes that the benefits to using pigs extend beyond their anatomical similarities to humans. “These pigs are in more of a natural state. They’re just running around the farm, not pinned up in a cage,” he says. “The other thing is that they’re not euthanized and tossed. They’re sent to the slaughterhouse [for human consumption], which is what they’re for.”

A Goal Of 20 Beehives

When Hinton’s not working with pigs, he may very well be working with bees. A few years ago, he became an amateur beekeeper after moving a swarm of feral bees to a box hive on land he’d recently purchased in Fenton. A year later, he had five hives. And now he’s working on establishing an eighth. His goal is 20.

“Last year, I made about 28 gallons of honey,” Hinton says. “It was an incredible amount of honey. Can you imagine? That’s a lot.”

He gave away much of it and sold a little. Though he notes that he’s not in it to make money, he does have a Hinton’s Honey logo and a slogan: “Just a little snack.”

The Dancing Cowboy

Though Hinton is clearly a busy guy, he finds time to pursue more artistic endeavors, as well. On the wall of his office is a large framed poster of ACTS Theatre’s production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas during its 2009-2010 season. Featured prominently is Hinton in a cowboy hat and boots, looking like he’s having the time of his life.

“That was a whim,” he says. “I saw the advertisement in the paper and I thought: ‘Wear a cowboy hat, dance around on stage — that sounds like fun.’ It was a lot of fun. I got to sing – I’m a terrible singer — but it was so much fun. I’ve given talks in front of huge audiences. But to do something like that play is really cool. I understand why people do it now.”

In a similar vein, in 2008, Hinton and his wife, Bridget, competed in a local dance competition — a fundraiser for the Home Health Foundation. When he agreed to do it, he thought it was going to be like the old high school dance contests — a bunch of couples out on the dance floor, gradually eliminated until only one couple was left. In reality, it was more along the lines of Dancing With the Stars.

“I didn’t know what ‘Dancing With the Stars’ was, so I had no idea it was a spotlight thing. By the time I figured that out, it was too late to back out,” Hinton says.

He claims he’s not a very good dancer. But he and Bridget took home the first-place prize for their performance: a cha-cha to “Smooth” by Santana. And then they won the 2010 competition — doing the tango this time — that brought back previous winners.

‘Patient-Centric Care’

Hinton is also very involved with ACTS (Adoration, Community, Theology, Service) Missions and is directing an upcoming ACTS retreat, planned for Labor Day Weekend, at Immaculate Conception Cathedral.

He and Bridget have three grown children: Lauren, a physical therapist living in Austin; Kristen, who lives in New Orleans and works in digital media for a New York-based advertising agency; and Jake, a junior computer science major at LSU who will be interning with Amazon in Seattle this summer.

Obviously, Hinton doesn’t have a lot of downtime, but he always has time for his patients. When a patient calls the office with a concern or a question for Hinton, he takes the call himself. That’s not something all doctors do.

But for Hinton and his staff, “patient-centric care” is a priority. He and Bridget, who is not only his wife but also his office manager, are working with Lake Area Medical Center to collect data on overall costs of surgery, as well as patient outcomes. Though the project is ongoing, he says they’ve made significant improvements in outcomes and cost savings for patients.

Here’s an example of how patient-centric care works: Before a patient undergoes surgery, Hinton makes sure that patient sees a family physician to ensure he or she is healthy enough to undergo the operation. The patient may also need to visit a dentist to rule out the possibility of an infection in the mouth, which can negatively affect surgical outcomes. In addition, the patient visits with the anesthesiologist and a hospitalist pre-surgery.

Rather than using high-powered narcotics, Hinton typically performs surgery with spinal anesthesia and sophisticated nerve blocks to reduce pain. “That way, the patients aren’t groggy after surgery. They can get up and walk; they aren’t constipated; they don’t itch; they don’t have crazy nightmares or dreams or hallucinations; and the majority of [them] go home within a day,” Hinton says.

As he explains it, providing value to the patient means much more than being technically good at his job — which he is. It also requires considering a patient’s wants and needs and collaborating with the patient to make the best decision for him or her. That’s exactly what Hinton does. And it works.

“Typically, when I see a patient back in the office within two or three weeks (post-surgery), they are walking without canes or crutches, which is phenomenal,” he says.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years. Those patients used to stay in the hospital a week, and be on crutches and walkers for a month, and be taking all sorts of high-powered narcotics for months. And the surgery hasn’t really changed that much. It’s the way we handle these patients.

“And that’s where I think my job as a physician has expanded — I look at all aspects of the patient’s care.”

Comments are closed.