Meniscus transplant is breakthrough procedure
Meniscal transplant, a specialty knee surgery now available at UHS, has been a game-changer for 16-year-old student athlete Danielle Hartford of Whitney Point.
Four years ago, at the first practice session of seventh-grade basketball, Danielle all of a sudden found herself in agony.
“There was no specific traumatic incident, but my knee suddenly had this painful lump on the side,” she said. “It was half the size of a golf ball. My coach suggested I get it checked out, and I had it X-rayed at a clinic. The doctor there said it was swollen tissue, and to put ice on it.”
Danielle made it through a whole season of basketball and track, followed by summer league basketball, icing her knee and taking over-the-counter medications to manage the pain.
That autumn, a visit to a surgical specialist revealed that the lump wasn’t just swollen tissue, but Danielle’s entire meniscus, torn off and balled up at the side of her knee.
The meniscus is a small pad of cartilage that plays an outsized role. Located between the bones of the knee, it acts as a shock-absorbing cushion for the joint. The meniscus can tear due to trauma or overuse, or degenerate slowly over time. Without a meniscus, knee bones grind against each other and significant pain is the result.
Until recently, if an injury to the meniscus was too difficult to repair surgically, the patient’s only option was to suffer with worsening arthritis until having a total knee replacement. For a young person like Danielle, the idea of waiting through years of pain was daunting.
A specialist Danielle visited out of town suggested meniscal transplant, but her health insurance plan deemed it experimental and declined to cover it.
She then had traditional arthroscopic knee surgery and eventually had her meniscus removed, which provided limited relief. After that, she tried physical therapy, orthotics and bracing to further manage the condition.
In 2017 she experienced another knee injury. It was then that the UHS athletic trainer who was working with students at Whitney Point High School recommended that Danielle see UHS orthopedic surgeon Micah Lissy, MD.
Dr. Lissy quickly sized up the situation.
“The pain and degenerative changes in Danielle’s knee were entirely predictable, and would only worsen with time,” he said. “She is too young for a knee replacement, and had very few options.”
Danielle described what happened next.
“Dr. Lissy said I needed the meniscal transplant, which we knew, but we told him our insurance wouldn’t approve it,” she noted. “Yet in a matter of weeks he advocated with our insurance to cover the procedure and had the surgery scheduled.”
Dr. Lissy is ever on the alert to find the safest and most effective treatment for his patients.
An orthopedic surgeon with a special interest in sports medicine and special training in meniscal transplant, Dr. Lissy is the only provider in the region offering this unique option for a severely torn meniscus.
Post-surgery, patients must stick to low-impact activities and maintain a healthy weight to avoid placing excess stress on the joint.
Danielle became the first female athlete to undergo the procedure at UHS.
She has a lot of praise for her surgeon and UHS Sports Medicine.
“Their team approach benefitted me greatly,” she said. “My athletic trainer took such good care of me and was with me the entire way as well.”
Danielle’s post-operative physical therapist was in the operating room to observe the procedure – giving him an inside understanding of its inner workings and how best to facilitate rehab.
Dr. Lissy noted: “Even though she will eventually need a total knee replacement, we’re buying her as many pain-free years as possible, which makes the meniscal transplant a huge success.”
The UHS Sports Medicine team includes a full range of professionals – athletic trainers, primary care sports medicine physicians, physician assistants, physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons, operating room nurses and scrub techs.
They all work closely together and are capable of managing complex procedures, such as hip arthroscopy, multiligament reconstruction, elbow arthroscopy, meniscal repairs and cartilage repairs or reconstructions.
For more information about meniscal transplant at UHS, click here.