6 July 2011
She has climbed Mount Snowdon and is about the complete a 26 mile walk for Help for Heroes – but not so long ago 40-year-old Burton-on-Trent lady Emma Wharton could barely walk after years of step aerobics classes ground away her knee cartilage. She was just 38 when her crippling injury meant even walking, let alone exercise, was unbearable. Now, she has undergone an innovative cartilage regeneration and graft procedure (MACI), which has left her knee feeling like new.
“I put up with pain in my knee for around nine months before I sought medical advice, but the catalyst was when it started to grind and I went to post a letter one day at the top of my road, and I couldn’t actually walk back! I went to see my GP who referred me to an orthopaedic specialist, Mr Prakash, and then I had x-rays.
“Mr Prakash was able to see straight away that my kneecap wasn’t in the right place, and I was booked in for an operation to put it back and have the tendons repaired. However, when he performed the operation he could see the extent of cartilage damage right at the bottom of my thigh bone where it meets the knee. He suggested to me that I had a cartilage graft. This involved another operation to remove some healthy cartilage cells to be regenerated in a lab, and then grafted back into my knee. It meant two more operations but I just wanted to try and get back to normal mobility so I agreed.”
The cartilage regeneration procedure which Emma had is only performed by a handful of specialists in the Midlands region, and she had to travel to Spire Hospital Little Aston in Sutton Coldfield to see Mr Prakash.
Says Mr Prakash:
“The procedure Emma had was developed only around ten years ago, however, the technology used has really developed in recent years and there are very few surgeons in the country who are now trained to carry it out. It involves removing some of the patient’s healthy cartilage cells to grow them further in a lab and then graft them back into the joint, where it can continue to regenerate until the defect has been repaired.
“Emma’s condition is indicative of a trend for younger people to suffer these sorts of problems traditionally associated with older people. You don’t always have to have suffered a really major trauma for this to occur. What we’ve done for her is almost like re-treading a tyre and we’ve now hopefully considerably prolonged the life of her knee. My advice to anyone suffering with joint pain or lack of mobility is to get it checked out early, as the earlier it can be diagnosed and treated, if necessary, the higher the chance of fixing the problem with minimal intervention. Had Emma not come and had her knee checked out it would probably have led to a complete knee replacement,” he added.
“After the op I was on crutches for a few weeks and moved into my parents’ bungalow so I could get around easier. I had to work from home for my job as a HR manager, as driving was out of the question – so it hasn’t been an easy ride. However, it was all worth it and climbing Mount Snowdon at the end of last year was a real achievement and milestone for me and confirmation that I’m back to my active self. I’m very much looking forward to doing the 26-mile Help for Heroes walk in June this year – although Mr Prakash has told me categorically never to get on a step aerobics box ever again!”