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Long-time Indy 500 announcer Bob Jenkins is recovering from hip replacement surgery performed by Doctor R. Michael Meneghini, Director, Indiana University Health Hip and Knee Center and Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery Indiana University School of Medicine.
He went to his first Indianapolis 500 qualification in 1957 and three years later attended his first race with his dad. Since then Bob Jenkins has been hooked on the Indianapolis 500. In fact, he’s been to every race since 1966.
For years, his voice has been heard throughout the month of May. He worked for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network from 1979 to 1980 and also for ABC-TV for several years and now works for the public address system.
“Everything in my life revolves around the race,” said Jenkins, 70.
So it made sense that when he decided to have a hip replacement, he planned the surgery for the month following the Indy 500. First the pain in his left hip was somewhat tolerable. But as time went on the discomfort grew worse – especially after he had been sitting for long periods of time. He visited several doctors and x-rays confirmed that he had arthritis in his left hip. A friend recommended Jenkins visit IU Health surgeon Dr. R. Michael Meneghini.
“It was to a point where I was limping and people would ask what was wrong. At times the pain would take my breath away,” said Jenkins. Surgery was scheduled for June 4 at IU Health Saxony.
“The best candidate for hip replacement is someone with end-stage debilitating osteoarthritis, who remains active and has failed non-operative measures such as medications or sometimes injections,” said Dr. Meneghini. Up to the point of surgery, Jenkins had used over-the-counter medication to try to mitigate pain.
His surgery involved removing the diseased femoral head (the ball of the joint) and the socket joint and replacing it with a stem down the femoral bone (thigh bone) with a new ball attached to the top. The procedure then involved placing an implant into the pelvis that has a polyethylene liner (the socket) that accepts the ball and acts as the new hip joint.
Between 100-120 total hip and knee replacement procedures are performed monthly at IU Health Saxony. Dr. Meneghini estimates 95 percent of the hip replacements last about 20 years.
Working with a team in the operating room, Dr. Meneghini performs six to eight surgeries a day.
“I decided to go into hip and knee replacement because I am good with my hands,” said Dr. Meneghini, who was an engineer before becoming a physician. “I wanted to help people who had painful and debilitating hip and knee disease walk and stay active. I am truly blessed that I love and have a passion for hip and knee replacement, and that I can provide a good life for my wife and five children, doing something that I look forward to each and every day.”
And he especially looks forward to seeing his patients continue with their typical lifestyles. In many cases, patients are up walking the same day and are generally walking with minimal pain in three to four weeks.
Two weeks following surgery, Jenkins was walking around his Crawfordsville home without assistance.
“I’d tell anyone who is considering the surgery, don’t hesitate. It’s everything everyone told me it would be,” said Jenkins. “They said you’ll be up walking the day of the surgery and I was.”
Jenkins said he doesn’t like to be singled out for his work with the Indy 500, giving credit to a crew of talented individuals. And he adds he’s no different than any other patient when it comes to surgeries. He’s had several in his life including a colon resection resulting from a cancer diagnosis in 1983. Nearly 30 years later the disease again struck his family when his high school sweetheart and wife of 43 years, Pam, was diagnosed with brain cancer. She died in 2012 and the same year, during a practice session at the Indy 500, Jenkins announced his retirement from network television. He continues his work as an announcer for the Speedway.
A room in his home serves as a sort of museum illustrating his years of dedication, service, and just love for motor sports. He talks about that first race in 1960 where he sat in Grandstand C and stood up every lap to see who was leading in turn four. He fell in love with the sport and hoped to attend every year. But there were other things on the horizon for the 12-year-old Jenkins that sometimes got in the way of race day – like his high school senior trip to Washington, DC. that happened to fall during race weekend.
“Everyone else was touring the Capitol and I stayed on the bus with my ear to a transistor because I didn’t want to miss the race,” said Jenkins. Aside from the racing he’s a self-proclaimed music guru. Over the years he has collected about 7,000 vintage 45 records – all catalogued in their cases and displayed in a custom-made storage bin. A framed poster of “The Teddy Bears,” a pop music group from the late 1950s; and a newspaper article recounting the Feb. 3, 1959 plane crash that claimed the life of Buddy Holly are displayed on the wall.
Racing memorabilia surrounds the musical treasures. Shelves on one wall are lined with his collection of 33 die-cast roadsters. There is a sign from his boyhood home of Liberty that reads: “Home of Bob Jenkins – Radio voice of the Indy 500;” original prints of the pagoda; a tire signed by two-time Indy 500 winner the late Dan Wheldon, and a racing helmet signed by all the drivers in the starting field. The helmet was given to Jenkins for his final TV broadcast of 2012 the year Ed Carpenter won the Indy 500. Also in his collection is the green flag he waved to signal the start of practice on the day he announced his retirement from network television.
There’s one treasure that is not part of the motorcar collection. It’s too big to fit in Jenkins’ home and it symbolizes yet another new hobby.
Last year, he purchased a yellow 1960 Thunderbird and named it “Big Bird.”
“Now that I can get around better, I’m looking forward to cleaning and polishing it and taking it to cruise-ins,” said Jenkins. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and now I have the time.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health. Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.