After a head-on car crash, driver Kirsten Pitman faced the prospect of life in a wheelchair when specialists told her she would have great difficulty when walking.
The extent of the knee trauma she had suffered in the crash, coupled with a two-month bed-bound stay in East Surrey Hospital afterwards, offered a bleak prognosis, doctors told her.
But a decade later, Kirsten is fully mobile, even going on skiing holidays and participating in Zumba classes, after participating in trials of a procedure undertaken at Spire Gatwick Park Hospital to resurface the knee with indigenous cartilage.
Consultant orthopaedic and knee surgeon Mr George Tselentakis from Spire Gatwick Park Hospital has a special interest in all aspects of knee surgery including new biological treatments of cartilaginous defects and he was at the time one of the local investigators in a multicentre trial studying the efficacy of chondrocyte implantation.
“The procedure has changed my life,” said a delighted Kirsten. “From potentially being wheelchair-bound to being able to go to the gym, run, ski and take regular Zumba classes.
“I can’t thank Spire Gatwick Park Hospital and Mr Tselentakis enough. I was most impressed with the hospital staff throughout my stay and during the follow-ups. They really helped relieve the pressure and take my mind off the operation, particularly when I was taken down to theatre.”
At the time of the accident, Kirsten was looking forward to getting married the following year. “I thought I was never going to walk down the aisle unaided but I managed it and even invited Mr Tselentakis to the wedding.”
She continues: “Mr Tselentakis explained how the ACI procedure is done in two stages – the first, a 30-minute keyhole procedure, when a cartilage biopsy is taken from the knee, before the cells are grown on to a membrane in the lab. The second, hour-long procedure is to implant the cartilage cells to replace the missing tissue.
“Every week after the operation I was back and forth to the hospital for physio to strengthen the muscles and for at least six months had to avoid any high impact activities,” she said.
A year after the surgery an arthroscopic examination was performed and biopsy was taken from the newly formed cartilage. The biopsy confirmed that the new tissue formed was like normal cartilage and at that stage Kirsten was discharged to her normal activities.
Kirsten then returned for further monitoring once or twice a year for the next three years and once a year after that, Kirsten recalls.
For anyone considering a similar operation, Kirsten stresses: “Listen to the advice and make sure you do the exercises given. Sometimes it is hard to be motivated to carry on with them but stick with it and keep going.”
Patients who suffer from symptoms of pain and reduced function due to cartilaginous defects affecting the femur (thigh bone) and have not responded to other lesser treatments could be suitable for the ACI procedure, Mr Tselentakis points out: “The procedure can be considered as an option to deal with isolated defects of articular cartilage of the knee given that cartilage does not have the biological capacity for self-repair.”
Currently Spire Gatwick Park Hospital and Mr Tselentakis are collaborating with European laboratories and scientists to develop new methods and advance current cellular treatments for cartilaginous defects as well as early arthritic conditions.