Outfielder Jose Martinez from Venezuela has made an unprecedented return to baseball and will start with Class AA Birmingham Barons, Chicago White Sox farm team, this week. Martinez's career was sidelined after he underwent several menisci repairs, culminating in a transplant in 2009. Scott Takao, minor league medical coordinator for the Chicago White Sox, said this is a first in baseball history: a player who received a meniscus transplant is back in the game.
"He is playing great with the Barons and is getting close to his goal of playing for the Chicago White Sox," says Takao. "I think it is partly age, since he was 19 when he had the transplant, but significant advancements in technology and cutting-edge physicians are making an incredible difference for athletes with meniscus injuries."
In September 2008, Jose suffered a knee injury resulting in the loss of his lateral meniscus, rubbery cartilage cushioning the knee. By spring 2009, Jose was faced with giving up his baseball career. Herm Schneider, Chicago White Sox head athletic trainer, and Drs. Charles Bush-Joseph and Brian Cole, sports medicine specialists at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush and team physicians for the White Sox, discussed Jose's condition offering him a treatment never tried in professional baseball.
In May 2009, Martinez had a meniscus transplant by Drs. Cole and Bush-Joseph at Rush University Medical Center. After extensive rehab, Martinez is continuing to play and actively chasing his dream of the majors.
Dr. Cole, who is one of the world's leading experts in meniscus transplantation, performs this procedure to alleviate the pain for patients who have had all or part of their menisci removed. Martinez's initial injury was similar to that of Jeremy Lin, New York Knicks player, who had surgery this week. Partial meniscus removal helps most patients, but some develop recurring symptoms of pain and swelling and their activity is limited. A meniscus transplant from a deceased organ and tissue donor, called an allograft, may help young, active patients avoid future joint replacement.
"Replacing the meniscus helps with pain, cushioning and stability, and also protects the knee's articular cartilage from additional stress," says Dr. Cole. Dr. Cole helped develop specialized instruments and techniques used for this procedure.
For more information on menisci repairs, transplants or cartilage replacement, or to make an appointment with Dr. Cole, call 877-MD-BONES (877.632.6637).