Roofer kneeling on a roof working with roof tiles

TRADITIONAL surgery for damaged knee cartilage doesn’t always work, but a new treatment replaces damaged tissue with cartilage harvested from elsewhere in the knee. Peter Dodds, 37, from Driffield, East Yorkshire, talks to ANGELABROOKS about his experience, while his surgeon explains the procedure.

As I run a roofing company, I’m up ladders carrying out roof inspections everyday, and until four years ago I had absolutely no problems with my knees. But in July 2003 I was at my desk and as I got off my chair, turning slightly, something clicked in my especially with my job. I couldn’t risk right knee and I couldn’t move it. It was locked in a bent position.

I could feel a piece of knobbly loose gristle or bone under the skin which I could push around, and just moving it released my knee so I could straighten it and walk around again. It didn’t really hurt but I was concerned about it, especially with my job. I couldn’t risk having my knee jam on me at the top of a ladder.

So I immediately went to see my GP and he referred me to a knee specialist in Scarborough where, a few months later, I had an arthroscopy. This is where surgeons make an incision in the knee to examine the inside and try to smooth out any roughened cartilage.

During the operation, the surgeon also removed the piece of gristle cartilage that had come loose from the bone but said this wasn’t a long-term solution because I now had a hole that would need refilling.

So the following year I was admitted to hospital again where they drilled holes in the crater left by the loose cartilage with the hope that this would stimulate new cartilage to grow. I had no real pain but my knee was stiff and I knew it wasn’t right. Because of that my surgeon said he was referring me on to a colleague, Mr Stuart Calder, who would be able to carry out a newer procedure which might help.

He would drill tiny bore holes in the crater in my knee and these would be plugged with healthy bone and cartilage from a less used part of the knee, creating a mosaic-like structure. I was admitted to hospital for the operation in January, and was pretty nervous. Afterwards, I woke up with my leg bandaged and with a Velcro splint holding everything firmly in place, and within a couple of hours they had me upon crutches, and let me go home later that day.

I had to stay off that leg completely for six weeks. I started on a gentle physiotherapy programme a couple of weeks after surgery.

Two months later when I went for my follow-up, Mr Calder said I could come off the crutches and I’ve had no twinges, pain or anything since. I’ve regained my confidence and am back on ladders. All I’ve got to show is a neat scar up the middle of my knee.

I know this is unlikely to be a permanent cure, as it’s likely the cartilage will deteriorate again in the future and my knee will have to be replaced, but it has given me back my lifestyle and could last me ten years, which is great.

Mr Stuart Calder, consultant knee surgeon at Chapel Allerton Hospital, Leeds, says:

“Seventy five per cent of the patients I see have knee cartilage defects and this affects people of all ages. In younger people it often occurs as a consequence of high-impact sporting”.

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