It helps us pivot and move quickly from front to back. The anterior cruciate ligament — or ACL — is critical for stability. But about 400,000 athletes and even weekend warriors tear the ligament each year.
Now there’s a less-invasive repair technique local doctors hope will be a game changer.
Brook Simpson is a three-sport athlete but basketball is her favorite.
“I love how competitive it is. I just love the athletic part of it ,” she said.
She plays for her high school and on a travel team. During a game in April, she was injured.
“Within two minutes of the game, I hurt myself so I went out and then got everything looked at and everything looked ok,” she said. “Then I went back in the game because I was feeling ok, and I kind of heard a ‘pop.’”
Dr Jorge Chahla is with Midwest Orthopedics at Rush and confirmed Brook had torn her ACL.
“Once I found out my ACL was torn, we just kept researching, because I didn’t feel like I wanted to have that much done to my knee,” Brooke said.
In a traditional procedure, doctors use a piece of patellar, quad or hamstring tendon to reconstruct the ACL.
“And then you drill tunnels … and a tunnel into femur and you pass that graft and fix it with screws or buttons,” Chahla said.
That’s not how he fixed Brook’s knee.
“The ACL will be pushed by the sutures into the center of (an) implant,” Chahla said.
Chahla used a sponge called the “BEAR implant.” It acts as a conduit to ultimately reconnect the two torn ends of the ACL before it eventually dissolves in the body.
“We pass sutures through the ACL stump,” Chahla said. “Then the sutures go into the femur and basically the ACL will regrow between the proximal and distal stump.”
The ligament sits inside the knee, which means it’s bathed in synovial fluid – a thick substance that helps the joint function smoothly. But the fluid also prevents blood from clotting. And after an injury, you need to clot so natural healing can begin.
“It basically isolates the ACL from the synovial fluid with her own blood,” Chahla said. “So, basically, creates a scaffold that is not able to be created if you don’t have that sponge.”
“This way it’s my natural anatomy. Nothing is added or taken away,” Brook said.
As brook works on range of motion and slowly putting more weight on her leg, the 16-year-old has options to weigh.
“I have 13 Division 1 offers for basketball. They are all over the country,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a big year for recruiting for me, and that kind of got put on hold. But I’m super grateful for all my offers, so it’s not a rush.”
Chahla has confidence in the young athlete and the new procedure.
“We’re hoping that she is going to be extremely successful in her sports career,” he said.
“I’m feeling great. I mean, this is the best I could feel for a surgery for your knee,” Brook said.
Because the BEAR procedure is so new, Chahla says long-term studies need to be done to determine how well the repair holds up against the more traditional reconstructive procedure.