Kaye Stephen's - Personal Story

I am a 40 year old female and I damaged my knee in 2011. I was eventually diagnosed 6 months later with lateral meniscal bucket handle tear.

I had struggled on in pain for months, having  been told by the doctors that it was a ligament strain. Some ligament strain this was! It was causing my knee to lock, grinding, swelling and at times I was  immobile. I had to stop my competitive netball, salsa dancing and competitive horse riding.

I saw a surgeon at a private hospital in Blackburn. “Yes, no problem Mrs Stephen, we can repair the cartilage or take it out. Either way you will be fine and able to get back to your sports”.

I came round from the operation to be told by the same surgeon that there was more damage than anticipated. He had to remove practically my entire lateral meniscus and advised there was damage to my tibia plateau and chondral surface - the usually smooth bearing surface in my joint. I

had gone from this mega active person, living life in the fast lane, climbing, netball, dancing and show jumping, to now struggling to climb a flight of stairs! The worst of it was, I was told to reframe from most activities I loved or arthritis would set in.

From that moment on, I felt my whole life had fallen apart.  As a sporty, tall and slender lady, the prospect of walking with a stick and being struck with arthritis was an image I struggled with. The pictures I conjured up, struck me with a sinking feeling that I had to somehow accept my life had changed and nothing could be done about it.

Until one day a colleague suggested I look on the internet and research knee surgeons and any procedures that would assist in my situation. I discovered the collagen meniscal implant and thought this could be an option for me. I did not have sufficient remaining meniscal rim to consider the collagen implant option unfortunately but I read about meniscal transplantation.

I researched all surgeons in the UK and discovered that Mr Tim Spalding had performed more of meniscal transplants than anyone else. To keep my options open, I saw both Mr Spalding and another surgeon in London.

I felt at immediate ease with Tim and found that he was extremely informative, explaining the procedures, chances of success and emailing me thereafter when I had questions. I wanted to make as much an informed decision as possible. You end up becoming an expert on your own knee. I had to be, since my decision was crucial. Do I leave my knee well alone and endure a life of limited activity, knowing arthritis may creep up at some point, or do I take the chance in having an operation that is largely unperformed by many and the risk that it may not go as planned.

I contacted Mr Spalding’s office and within days they confirmed that they had found donor meniscus tissue the right size. I was booked in and ready to go.  In the weeks up to the operation I worked hard at building lots of muscle in both legs. I had the meniscal transplant on 31/3/14 and a small area of damage on the joint surface was treated with the microfracture procedure. It was, I think, a 2 hour operation. I came round to find Mr Spalding telling me the operation was a success and that the tissue was a perfect fit. Mr Spalding came to see me regularly and gave me invaluable advice on how to protect the graft and my rehabilitation generally.

Recovery was hard, but I was surprised to find that in some ways it was better than the recovery I had after the total menisectomy. I prayed the graft would take, and I worked hard at rehabilitation. I couldn’t believe how well I was doing. At eight weeks I was full weight baring, walking without any limp. At twelve weeks, I was cycling and gradually building up the bend in my leg. I was achieving near full extension and doing mini squats like they were going out of fashion. My physiotherapist, told me I was a model patient, going from strength to strength.

I have more recently had an MRI scan. But having seen the damage to my knee and no meniscus on my previous MRI scans, it was an amazing feeling to now see the transformation and pictures the recent MRI presented. The graft was in place. I now had a meniscus!

At 12 months, I’m doing really well and although I occasionally experience some clicking, it doesn’t bother me.  I have recently visited Scotland: I climbed a cliff face in Elie, like tomb raider; had a few games of tennis; joined in on parents verses children’s rugby charity game and walked all over the beautiful country side that Fife has to offer. I have no pain, no restriction and full range of movement. Above all, I have my knee back and can do the things I love.

Kaye Stephen