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Melvin Walker Returned to the Gym After a Knee Injury at Age 36

Some teachers use books and computers to instruct students. Melvin Walker’s classroom is a gym and weight room at Park Hill South High School where he teaches physical education and skills as a track coach. Every day Melvin uses exercise to help students realize the importance of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, he works out himself, but in 2004 at age 36, Melvin faced a life-altering health problem more common for a 70- or 80-year old man.

Melvin consulted orthopedic surgeon James Reardon, MD, after his knee swelled during a workout. Melvin remembers his knee hurt so bad he couldn’t use the stairs, play basketball or enjoy physical activities with his son.

Dr. Reardon discovered damaged cartilage in Melvin’s knee. Cartilage makes joints easier to move because they allow bones to glide over each other with little friction, explains Dr. Reardon with Northland Bone and Joint.

The typical prescription for such a problem would be a knee replacement, not an ideal solution for Melvin, since the lifespan for a replacement is only 10 to 15 years. It meant in Melvin’s lifetime he would face at least one or two more knee surgeries.

Dr. Reardon offered Melvin an alternative, a cartilage transplant. “I have performed over 3,000 knee replacements and most of those patients are highly satisfied,” says Dr. Reardon, “but there is still a difference between the knee you are born with and an artificial knee.”

In 2000, Dr. Reardon started performing the cartilage transplant, a two-step process where he first harvests the patient’s own cartilage cells where they grow in a laboratory. When they accumulate to 10 million cells in about six weeks, Dr. Reardon transplants them back into the knee, where they continue to grow. This same process is repeated for shoulders, ankles and in the future, for hips.

During the transplant procedure, Dr. Reardon also will straighten a leg, if needed. This allows the leg to be perfectly aligned so the transplanted cartilage wears evenly.

Candidates for cartilage transplant surgery must be at their ideal body weight, with cartilage damage isolated to one or two areas of the knee. Jim Yates, age 47, underwent his surgery in June 2011 after suffering pain on the inside of his left knee. His work at a printing company, with frequent squatting and lifting, aggravated his condition.

Patients, like Melvin and Jim, must commit to extensive post-surgery rehabilitation including crutches for up to six weeks followed by months of physical therapy. While Melvin completed his therapy years ago, Jim kept busy in the summer with physical therapy, water therapy, stationary bicycling and other exercises to strengthen and stabilize his leg.

Jim says, “I am doing good as my flexibility is returning along with my strength, but I know it will be a year before I am fully recovered.”

“This is an exciting time in orthopedic medicine as we can repair many joint injuries to the pre-injury state thru transplantation and realignment, if the patient sees us early enough,” states Dr. Reardon.

Jim Yates appreciates this new technology as does Melvin Walker. “I can live a normal life and be active as a PE teacher, coach and father,” says Melvin.

Patient Stories