More than four million Americans are living with an artificial knee. It’s a solution that relieves the chronic pain of a worn-out joint. But the metal replacements only last for ten to twenty years, meaning it’s not a good option for everyone. Now there’s a new therapy that experts say could help young adults and even teens who are struggling with damaged knees.
From the time she was little, April Giles dominated on the soccer field and the basketball court.
“I was hoping to get into high school and play all four years, but other things came up,” April said.
A misstep on the court and a blow to the knee left April with a painful injury. Doctors told her rest would heal it, but it kept coming back; she toughed it out for four years and three surgeries.
April explained, “It would hurt mainly when I would walk, but then it got to the point where it would hurt when I would sit or sleep. It was basically uncomfortable for weeks at a time.”
April’s mother Cathy, detailed, “On Easter Sunday, April came out of the shower crying; she was in a lot of pain. She said, ‘my knee locked.’”
Vonda Wright, M.D., M.S., an orthopedic surgeon at UPMC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, determined a portion of April’s bone and cartilage had died and had come loose inside the joint.
“For kids like her that have a very large cartilage problem, there are not a lot of options,” explained Dr. Wright.
But April was a good candidate for a new procedure, a graft of bone and cartilage together called a BioUni. Dr. Wright used a small piece of donor bone.
“It’s like being on the transplant list, except we have a week instead of one day,” Dr. Wright said.
When she opened April’s knee and prepared the bone, the donor piece fit into the opening where the graft will fuse with April’s knee.
“Our hope is that in a few years we will not be able to tell the difference,” said Dr. Wright.
Three months after surgery, April rejoined her high school marching band and is now swimming circles around the competition in her new sport.
“I don’t feel pain anymore,” said April.
Cathy detailed that she is just happy she can be a normal 16-year-old and get back to some of the things she likes to do.”
Dr. Wright said April and other patients who have this transplant do not need anti-rejection drugs because the same type of rejection that happens with soft-tissue organs does not happen with musculoskeletal tissue. She also advises her patients to avoid high-impact activities, but to be as active as possible.