BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's one of the most common knee problems in the world. As many as 700,000 procedures are done in the U.S. every year to repair a torn meniscus, and oftentimes the patient walks away with the same amount of pain.
Doctors in Baton Rouge are among the first in the country to try the first-ever artificial meniscus implant now available as part of a surgical trial. It has the potential to delay a total knee replacement.
Debra Tongue, 46, has never been one to sit still, but in May 2015, the mother of three and former personal trainer went from roller blades to a hospital bed.
"I jumped out of a chair into a sprint and my first plant it was over," she recalled. "It was kind of a freak accident. It felt like a pop, and then pain, and my knee was very unstable."
The pain was caused by a tear in her meniscus - the soft, rubbery cartilage that cushions the bones in the knee. It functions as a shock absorber when you walk or run. Tongue underwent an arthroscopic meniscectomy to remove the torn tissue, but her pain persisted.
"This implant really fills a void. We've had these patients that have come in, and there's not great options," said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Larry "Chip" Bankston.
"The more meniscus we take out, the more increased risk you have for the advancement of arthritis," explained Dr. Robert Easton, another orthopedic surgeon at Baton Rouge Orthopaedic Clinic.
The artificial meniscus is called NUsurface, a medical-grade plastic implant made by Active Implants. Baton Rouge Orthopaedic Clinic is one of ten locations across the country to test it out, and Tongue was eager to give it a shot. Her procedure was the first time NUsurface was implanted in the southern U.S.
The first step in the hour-long procedure is to remove what's left of the damaged meniscus. Doctors use special cameras and X-rays to see what they're doing. The implant comes in several different sizes, and doctors often try a couple different ones before deciding on the perfect fit. It's simply popped in by hand and then maneuvered into the exact position.
"The cool think about it is as you flex and extend, the forces on the knee joint load, but the plastic will actually kind of conform and expand and then come back almost acting like a normal meniscus," Easton said.
"If you're talking about you can gain five to 10 years or 10 to 15 years before needing something bigger like a knee replacement, it's a huge win for the patient," Bankston explained.
After a successful surgery, Tongue now needs several weeks of physical therapy before getting back to normal. She hopes to be hiking the Himalayas come September.
"I feel like I have a second chance to, ya know, enjoy life the way that I did before. I've been pretty sedentary the last year," she said.
The trial continues through 2017, and Baton Rouge Orthopaedic Clinic is recruiting other patients to try the NUsurface implant.
Patients must be between 30 and 75 years old, and they must have pain from a previous meniscus surgery at least six months ago.
During the clinical trial, the NUsurface procedure is covered by Medicare, and some private insurance companies. The normal fees associated using your insurance may apply.
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