Scripps orthopedic surgeon recounts experience as champion fencer

Some 20 years ago, Christopher Hajnik was known as a champion fencer. Now, the Carlsbad man is known as Dr. Hajnik, an orthopedic surgeon at Scripps Medical Center in Encinitas.

Hajnik — who graduated from Notre Dame University with a bachelor of science degree in 1995 before pursuing his master's degree in biology from the school — first took up fencing as a club sport in his freshman year at the university before joining the team his sophomore year.

His father, who also went to Notre Dame, also competed on the fencing team during his time at the college.

"When I started at Notre Dame, one of my goals was to get a letterman's jacket," said Hajnik. "I had played football and golf in high school, and those would have been the most obvious teams to join in college. Unfortunately, Notre Dame was really good back then, so that was not going to be a good option for me."

Hajnik found strength in saber fencing, which allows competitors to score with the edge of the blade. During his senior year in 1994, the team won the national title and Hajnik was also elected team captain. In the nationals competition, he took 10th place, which qualified him as an All-American fencer.

But, during medical school at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, his knees began to give out on him. By the time he finished medical school, in his early 30s, he already had two surgeries on both knees. This eventually led to early-onset osteoarthritis. He said he manages this with low-impact exercise and occasional over-the-counter pain medications, rather than knee replacement surgery.

"Fencing is somewhat of an impactful sport on your knees with the lunging and running," he explained. "It probably caused some problems with my knees that I deal with today."

Now, at Scripps in Encinitas for the last seven years as a specialist in Adult Joint Reconstruction, Hajnik helps patients who have injured their hips and knees, including athletes similar to the one he once was.

He said he deals primarily with patients who have experienced degenerate changes in those body parts. Some of his specialties include knee and hip joint replacements; revisions; cartilage restoration; Subchondroplasty; and knee surgery.

"The parting line, if you have arthritis, is you have to do low-impact exercise," the surgeon said."For lots of patients, that can be really challenging and heartbreaking because it means having to change your lifestyle and giving up something you love. I've gone through that myself. I would love to be able to continue running every day or take up fencing again, but my knees just aren't going to let me do it. Sometimes you have to make some sacrifices and find balance. I try and help patients find a way to stay healthy so they don't have to give up the benefits of exercise, but then in the same token, try and preserve their joints as long as possible."

Hajnik and the entire CORE Orthopaedic practice he works for offers free physicals to North County-area high school football players and stands on the sidelines at some games to offer assistance should an emergency occur.

"When I joined the practice, it was understood that was our way of giving back to the community," he said. "I enjoy being with the kids nowadays as a surgeon. One of the misconceptions from the public is I'm not there on the sidelines to diagnose an ankle sprain or ACL injury. I'm there to make sure these kids don't kill each other with concussions, spine injuries or some of the other orthopedic emergencies that really can have devastating consequences."

For more information about Hajnik, visit http://bit.ly/2DpD7Sl.

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