From skiing down the slopes in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympic games, to running down your own road … You don't have to be an all-star athlete to feel the effects of a hard workout. Often, knees take the biggest beating. A new type of transplant is getting people back to their workouts faster than ever before.
Just like in the road, a pothole can form in your knee. That's exactly what happened to experienced marathon runner Kevin Kaspzyk.
"When I would try running on it, I would get a sharp needle-like pain,” Kaspzyk told Ivanhoe.
That pain was felt with Kaspzyk’s every step, and it's a lot of steps. He runs 80 miles a week!
"A lot of people are like, I can't imagine driving that long, let alone running it!" he said.
But the wear and tear took its toll.
"[My doctor] said, ‘You have this big huge piece of missing cartilage,’" Kaspzyk said.
"Think of a pothole in your cartilage as a pothole in a road,” Joseph Guettler, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., explained to Ivanhoe. “If you keep driving over the pothole, or using your knee, the pothole will get bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, and that means the pothole has progressed onto osteoarthritis."
Dr. Guettler used transplanted cartilage to repair Kaspzyk's knee. Cartilage cells are harvested from an area on the knee that's not hurt and sent to a lab where they are grown for six weeks.
"Believe it or not, they can grow something that's pretty close to real hyaline articular cartilage,” Dr. Guettler said.
The cells are then injected back into the knee under a patch that covers the "pothole."
"Ee're taking cartilage cells, and instead of sending them off to a lab, we're simply mincing them at the time of the procedure,” Dr. Guettler explained. “They're sprinkled on a biological scaffold and implanted into the knee, all in one setting."
The surgery is quick, but full recovery can take a year. Kaspzyk has his running shoes back on and is planning his 40th marathon.
"I'll be running Boston next year, and whether I get under three hours or not, I'm still able to do it,” Kaspzyk said.
And he'll do it without any pain.
The success rate with the cartilage transplant procedure at Beaumont Hospital is as high as 90 percent. Cartilage transplantation is only good for people who have not yet developed arthritis and could prevent them from getting it years later.