For as long as I can remember, sports have been a major part of my life. I played flag football and baseball as soon as I could run. This led to high school football where I was a captain of my team and in college, after class, you would always find me on a basketball court. Even after I started working full time, I still was able to stay involved in sports by joining recreation basketball and kickball leagues.
Unfortunately a side effect of playing the sports I loved was the wear and tear on my joints. When I was about 25 years old, my knees would start to swell up after my typical 2-3 hour pick-up basketball games and the recovery would not be as instantaneous as it was in college. I would try to take a little more time off between games or not give it my full effort, but my love of the sport and fierce competitive drive pushed me to go full force. I had my first setback when the swelling in my left knee got so bad it required me to see a doctor. The physician performed a micro fracture procedure to repair the massive amount of cartilage damage my knee had sustained. After a couple more years of continued basketball leagues, my right knee was starting to get a similar type of swelling and required a knee scope to clean up some cartilage tears as well. I knew if I continued down this path, I would be heading for knee replacements which are not a great option for someone in their young 30’s. Knee replacements have limited lives, and I would most likely not allow me to continue to play basketball.
The problem with both the micro fracture surgery and the knee scope were that they seemed to be “quick” fixes that weren’t truly addressing what was causing the cartilage damage in the first place. No matter how many times you fix a problem, if you don’t address the root cause, then you will continue to have that same issue. Even though I still felt like I was in good basketball shape, I knew I had to do something to prevent needing the early knee replacement surgery.
I met Dr. Minas at the Paley Institute after my right knee was having a bad swelling streak that wouldn’t go away after a pickup basketball game in April of 2018. I was aware of the Paley Institute because my daughter had already been treated by Dr. Feldman after being diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia as an infant. I was very excited to find out the Paley Institute had acquired a knee specialist, and became even more hopeful after I saw that Dr. Minas’ work in Boston was at the forefront of cartilage replacement and knee realignment procedures (MACI). After having my first consultation with Dr. Minas, he clearly pointed out how my misalignment was influencing the rubbing of the cartilage under my knee cap with my knees which was also later verified through the MRI. His team was great to work with and was able to quickly schedule the two-part knee surgery (the first one to harvest my cartilage, and the second to take the grown cartilage and implant it back in my knee). Things needed to move along quickly because my second child was due in six months and I knew it would take at least three months before I would be functional enough to help my wife and run around after my toddler.
The MACI procedure (second surgery) went about as well as I could have hoped for. I was off of pain medicine by the second day and hit all of my physical therapy milestones on time or early until I was walking crutch free eight weeks later. I did find the recovery to be very difficult. You have to follow very strict instructions so that you do not damage your new cartilage which is joining with the bone. Luckily, my mother was able to stay with my wife and me for a month, and I was able to take three weeks off of work initially and work from home for an additional three weeks. I wasn’t cleared to drive for at least six to ten weeks, so it was important to have plans in place to be able to accommodate that. I am sure that the hard work that I put into physical therapy, while staying within the allowed constraints, created a more successful recovery.
I’m currently just past one year post recovery and my right knee that had the procedure is feeling great. Other than the scar, I sometimes forget I even had a procedure. I am still on some slight exercise limits until 18 months (no basketball or HIIT/jumping type of movements), but I’m able to run around the yard with the kids with no pain at all in the knee. I have also since gotten a Peloton stationary bike, which is like having my own personal spin class in my house and is great for getting out my competitive itch.