Cartilage transplant instead of knee replacement for avid cyclist

Recently, Jack Donovan, 66, of Chicago was convinced he needed a total knee replacement.

A highly active person, he had been enjoying tennis, biking, and walking long distances among many other activities. However, four years ago when pain started in his left knee, doctors discovered a ‘flap’ in the cartilage in his knee joint. A local orthopedic surgeon cut the flap out, relieving him of pain, but it left some bone exposed.

As time went on, Donovan developed pain walking up and down the stairs in his Lincoln Park home, couldn’t bend his left knee more than 45 degrees, and he found himself searching for ramps and elevators when out in public places. So, he revisited his doctor who recommended that he consider a partial knee replacement. He explained that only a portion of his knee was damaged.

Second opinion

Doing his research, Donovan scheduled a second opinion consultation with joint replacement specialist Vasili Karas, MD, MS, who reviewed Donovan’s imaging and agreed that a portion of the cartilage in his knee looked unhealthy. Together, they decided to go ahead with a partial knee replacement and surgery was scheduled soon after.

However, the week before surgery, Donovan received a call from Dr. Karas that surprised him.

Collaborating to get the right treatment

“Dr. Karas told me that upon closer, pre-operative review of my imaging, he didn’t recommend the replacement surgery after all,” Donovan explained. “He said that my knee was in overall good condition, no evidence of arthritis, and just that one spot of missing cartilage was a problem. He suggested that I cancel surgery and talk to his partner, Adam Yanke, MD, PhD, who specializes in knee cartilage transplants.”

Hopeful that he could indeed avoid a knee replacement, Donovan scheduled a visit with Dr. Yanke.

“Jack Donovan was an excellent candidate for cartilage transplant surgery for several reasons,” explains Dr. Yanke. “His clinical symptoms aligned with his imaging, and his knee was very healthy overall. When patients have generally good cartilage throughout the rest of the knee, and there is only one area where it’s missing, this treatment can be successful. Jack’s goals included remaining active with cycling in particular. We’ve found the success rate of our surgeries to be within 85% in returning to daily life and patients are given a new option other than partial knee replacement surgeries, which is exciting.”

Very successfully, Dr. Yanke performed a cartilage transplant in Donovan’s knee using donated cadaver tissue at the Gold Coast SurgiCenter. Donovan went home the same day.

Biking 1,500 miles

Following a short regimen of physical therapy, Donovan was back walking short distances in his neighborhood. Six months post-surgery, he got back on his bike and gradually added mileage. One year later he was jogging — and just two years later, he biked from Prague to Istanbul covering more than 1,500 miles over five weeks.

Clearly, the decision to opt for a cartilage transplant was a good one.

“I am very appreciative to both Dr. Karas and Dr. Yanke for their excellent care,” Donovan says. “Their collaboration allowed me to make the best choice.”

If you would like to schedule an appointment to discuss your knee pain or condition, click here or call 877-MD-BONES.