BALTIMORE – Cartilage is the cushiony material that protects our joints, and it takes a pounding!
It wears down as we age and can be damaged during sports or sudden impact.
Over the past few years, researchers have developed biologic materials to help repair or patch the tissue damage.
Sheri Beach, 52, and her family love to hike.
But during a typical trek near her home, a water-logged trail almost put her out of commission for good.
"I took a step and stepped into a mud puddle. My foot went one way. My ankle went the other and I heard the crack," Beach said.
It took hours for the paramedics to reach her. Sheri's family tried to keep her leg elevated to stop the swelling, but the damage was done.
"By the time we got to the hospital and they were able to reduce it, it had been over four hours. The blood supply had been compromised," Beach said.
Surgeons repaired breaks in Beach's leg, but the talus bone near the ankle never recovered. A hole much like a pothole developed.
Instead of major surgery to fuse the ankle, Dr. John Campbell, an orthopedic surgeon at the Institute for Foot and Ankle Reconstruction at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, suggested a newer technique, a graft called BioCartilage.
"It's a form of cartilage from cadavers that is processed and morcellized and ground into dust and it's combined with cells from the patient," Campbell said.
Surgeons insert the mixture to fill the damaged area.
"The easiest way is like patching a hole in drywall while the material is liquid and soft you can fit it in. It hardens and dries so it stays in the spot," Campbell said.
Beach said she went from being in constant pain to regaining almost full use of her foot. Not only is she hiking again, but she has completed a two-day, 39-mile charity walk.
The BioCartilage treatment was performed by Dr. Rebecca Cerrato as an outpatient procedure, but Campbell warns patients that they will need to be non-weight bearing for up to eight weeks after treatment.
It can take six months to regain full mobility.