Rare surgery saves sports enthusiasts' knee

By Elizabeth Temple - bio | email

LAKE CHALRES, LA (KPLC) – Allison Sonnier, 26, suffered a knee injury after high school and discovered she had almost no meniscus, a cushion in the knee that absorbs shock, left in her knee.

"Knee pain sort of affects your whole body," explained Sonnier, "My knee would lock and then it would not unlock. It would just stay locked for days at a time and I couldn't walk, couldn't put any pressure on it at all. It hurt really bad."

She tore a portion of her meniscus that was getting stuck inside her knee, "popping and catching and really causing some disability. It's kind of like a hang nail inside your knee," said Dr. Alan Hinton, an orthopedic surgeon on staff at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Hinton surgically removed most of her meniscus, which many people can live without for several years, he said, but arthritis can set in. Sonnier had arthritis pain almost immediately after the first surgery, so Dr. Hinton suggested a rare surgery using a meniscus transplant.

"It's very similar to a heart transplant, or kidney transplant although not nearly as technical," said Dr. Hinton.

The surgery took two surgeons about three hours to complete, but it was not always a success story.

"We know more now how it (the transplant) has to fit. It has to fit perfectly," explained Dr. Brett Cascio, orthopedic surgeon and medical director of sports medicine at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital. He emphasized that this surgery is not meant for people who already have advanced arthritis and is mainly for young adults.

Sonnier's recovery took about six weeks and she said it was not easy. She wonders about the person whose donor meniscus saved her knee saying, "sometimes I want to know who it came from, maybe it'd make me run faster. But it's just one leg so I might just run in circles."

She will be running for a long time to come; Dr. Hinton explained her new meniscus will help ward off arthritis for fifty years or more.

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