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Sports Medicine Oregon one of 10 clinics nationwide offering meniscus replacement implants.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The scar tissue around the site of Don Bennett's most recent left knee surgery is still swollen, but Bennett says he can walk without the pain he used to experience and his range of motion is gradually returning.Knee pain has been a chronic part of Don Bennett's life for years.

Bennett played basketball growing up, and later, at the community college level. Thirty years ago, he felt acute pain in his left knee and ended up having surgery to remove a torn piece of his meniscus — a layer of soft tissue in the knee joint also called the cartilage. Several years later, the injury recurred.

“From probably about '03 or '04, the pain just kind of, year after year, it kept increasing and increasing,” he said. “It was just that constant, dull, achy pain that I had, and like I said, every year it got a little bit worse.”

Bennett's sister had undergone knee replacement surgery, so Bennett was familiar with how difficult and tedious it can be to recover from that major operation. Even still, he recalled, his pain was bad enough that he thought it was only a matter of time before he had to undergo the procedure himself.

A few months ago, Bennett said, he heard a commercial on the radio encouraging people like him — who had suffered meniscus tears, undergone surgery and were still coping with chronic knee pain — to see if they were eligible for a new procedure. So he did.

On July 13, Bennett became the first patient to undergo surgery at the Sports Medicine Oregon center in Tualatin for a meniscus replacement implant. The clinic, located near Bridgeport Village, is one of just 10 locations across the United States where the procedure is available.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Dr. Richard Edelson holds a meniscus replacement implant that is manufactured by Active Implants.Drs. Richard Edelson and Jonathan Greenleaf, who performed Bennett's surgery, said they have since done four more meniscus replacements, with as many as half a dozen more scheduled.

The surgeries are part of a clinical trial underway around the country, which is being regulated and evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The plastic meniscus implants, which are manufactured by Active Implants and are available to a limited number of patients at the 10 clinics, have been successfully used in surgeries for several years in Europe and Israel, according to Edelson, but the FDA must confirm their safety and efficacy before they can be used on a wider scale.

It's been less than two months since Bennett was fitted with a meniscus implant. He is still experiencing swelling at the site of the surgery, but he is able to walk without the assistance of a cane or other mobility device and shows just a slight limp. What's more, he says, the pain he had been living with for so many years is gone.

“Every day now is an improvement,” he told Edelson.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Don Bennett is walking around after becoming the first patient to undergo meniscus replacement surgery at the Sports Medicine Oregon center.

Bennett, who lives in Philomath, said his range of motion is increasing day by day. He has been going to physical therapy regularly and even felt well enough to return to his construction job three weeks ago, although he has been limited to light duty. He indicated he is feeling ready to get back to his normal routine.

“I'm hoping to get taken completely off of the light-duty thing, because it's just boring,” he remarked.

Bennett is far from alone in suffering from a damaged meniscus, which Edelson described as the “shock absorber” of the knee joint.

Edelson and Greenleaf said the procedure to repair a torn meniscus is the most commonly performed orthopedic surgery in the country.

“The reality is this is a significant problem in the world,” Greenleaf said. “People have had tears of the cartilage and have had pain afterward, and it's very difficult to treat. This would really fill a significant void in those treatment options that we don't have yet.”

While Bennett tore his meniscus twice playing basketball and the injury often befalls athletes, Edelson said it can happen to a wide range of people, not just those who play “high-impact” sports.

“It's recreational activities, it is activities of daily living, it's lifestyle,” Edelson said. “It's the ability to stay active and healthy, which has really long-term benefits. And for a lot of people, it's the ability to continue to do the job they're doing. … Doesn't have to be an athlete who's hurt themselves. It can just be anybody who's having some problems with that.”

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Dr. Richard Edelson shows a MRI of a knee joint after meniscus replacement implant surgery.

Because of how new the meniscus implants are, it is not known exactly how long they can be expected to last, Greenleaf acknowledged. He said the expectation is that they should last 10 to 15 years, if not longer, although Edelson cautioned that they are not meant to be used by people who are continuing to put a lot of stress on their knees with high-impact sports such as basketball and football.

Right now, in the clinical trial phase, Sports Medicine Oregon is the only clinic in the Pacific Northwest offering the procedure. Edelson and Greenleaf said they had to undergo special training and certification before they were cleared to perform it. So far, they indicated, the work is going well.

Bennett is certainly enjoying his augmented knee.

“I'm actually very happy I've had this done,” he said, “because I can tell already that my pain level is going to be way reduced, if not totally gone.”

Although Sports Medicine Oregon specializes in treating common athletic orthopedic ailments and injuries — Edelson and Greenleaf serve as team physicians for the Portland Timbers and also consult for the Portland Thorns FC — the clinic's services are not limited to athletes, nor is the clinical trial.

“This is an exciting new option to treat a really common, difficult problem where we haven't had good options,” Edelson said. “It offers the ability to give a lot of people some really significant pain relief with a relatively small operation … with a relatively quick recovery, with the potential to have really good long-term results.”

Not everyone with meniscus damage is eligible to undergo the trial procedure, and in fact, the doctors said only about one in every 10 people who has inquired about it has been deemed a candidate for the surgery. Anyone interested in learning more can visit the website for the clinical trial or call 1-844-680-8991.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Drs. Jonathan Greenleaf and Richard Edelson are both performing meniscus replacement implant surgery at Sports Medicine Oregon, the only clinic in the Pacific Northwest offering the procedure.

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor
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