ON THE RUN: Meet my ligament
Luckily, I am not a loyal X-Files fan and still close my eyes during Friday the 13th and movies of that gory and ridiculous, yet amazingly unsettling genre. I say this because if I were a fan of sci-fi and horror ventures I would need heavy sedation to sleep at night – especially after my latest purchase.
For the bargain price of a mere ten grand, I underwent knee surgery last week to fix the damage that was done this ski season. Just your basic ACL and meniscus tear, nothing that is shaking up the medical community around these parts.
In fact, in the last few weeks of my “gimp-hood” and after 500 conversations with well wishers at Safeway, the post office and every other imaginable stop on my daily travels, I was starting to feel fairly confident about going under the knife.
That was, of course, until I was told that my new knee ligament was compliments of a nameless cadaver. I laughed. An orthopedic surgeon with a sense of humor just what I need in the operating room.
But he was not smiling.
This is where the whole X-Files bit comes in. Naturally, if I let my imagination take over, I could envision a horrendous mix-up at the “dead person ligament holding station” and end up with some new tissue compliments of the scariest death-row inmate of the last decade.
Suddenly, without warning I would sprout a new alter ego and begin committing heinous crimes, rendering my former passive self helpless to stop the tirade. Latent “evil and twisted” DNA would slowly seep from my knee through my veins like those elementary school science experiments where colored water gradually infiltrated a celery stalk and turned it red, purple or blue.
Before I knew it, this benign transplant would take over and I would be forced to follow the same path of destruction that its original owner had taken.
Now, while that may be marginally dramatic, there was always the possibility of receiving a ligament from a 98-year-old man who had not used his ligaments since the Nixon administration. In that scenario, I would retain my pleasant disposition but would have a knee that would give out every time I danced around my living room when no one was home. Not so ideal.
Luckily, as I said before, I stay away from Star Trek conventions and am actually quite rational. As a writer, reader and true geek I turned to what I know best: research, research, research. What I found was that allografts – tissues taken from a cadaver donor and either freeze-dried or cryopreserved until being used to reconstruct poor lab rats like myself – are actually paving the way to quicker, less painful knee rehabilitation. They represent approximately 20 percent of all ACL surgeries in the U.S. and are being used more and more regularly in the field of sports medicine.
The advantage of these grafts is that no native tissue is used to replace the damaged ligament and initial recovery is considerably faster. The more traditional autograft method of harvesting the patellar tendon or hamstring can often delay the initial recovery, as more reconstruction must be done in these instances.
Of course, risks occur with both procedures and foreign tissue often takes longer to fully integrate into your body. I was also reminded before I dozed off to sleep that allografts run the risk of infecting the patient with HIV and hepatitis – but hey, at least I will be able to ski again.
Amazingly, in all of my years of sports trainers, coaches and doctors, I had no idea that grafting from dead people was a real viable option.
In fact, during the course of my investigations I found actual sites like tissue banking systems on the Internet and Tissuenet, a site which posts their full inventory of assorted ligaments, tendons and the like.
All I am hoping for now is a speedy recovery, a stronger knee (maybe even some improved moguling skills complements of my donor, who I am sure was a renowned free-styler), and a royalty check from the producers of the X-Files for a brilliant story idea.
Lara Mullin is the sports writer for the Sierra Sun.
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Several Truckee-Tahoe skiers will vie for Olympic medals next month.