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Health Beat: Better ankle surgery

By Melanie Falcon, Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published On: Jul 03 2013 11:46:25 AM CDT
Updated On: Jul 03 2013 05:03:08 PM CDT

When arthritis affects the ankle, simply walking can be excruciating.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -

When arthritis affects the ankle, simply walking can be excruciating. Fusing the ankle joint or putting in a metal implant can help, but for active patients, they could wear out quickly. Now, there is a new procedure that one doctor believes has the potential to last a lifetime.

“I’ve been riding for almost 40 years now,” said David Reid, an ankle arthritis patient.

Harley salesman David Reid's put a lot of miles on his wheels, but ankle arthritis took the fun out of riding bikes.

“It was not only painful, but it would also lock up,” Reid said.

An ankle fusion would limit his flexibility.

“Once it is fused, the motion is gone 100 percent,” said Dr. Fernando Pena, orthopaedic surgeon at University of Minnesota Physicians and assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Minnesota.

Like the tires on a car, Pena said an ankle replacement could wear out quickly in an active person.

"You will destroy it in very, very few years," Pena explained.

A new procedure Pena pioneered, however, might last a lot longer. The doctor cut out the defective surface of Reid's lower ankle joint.

"We are just removing the dome of the bone," Pena said.

Then, he transplants bone and cartilage from a cadaver.

"We make a similar cut on the piece of the bone that we got from the cadaver and just put it in and fix it with screws," Pena explained.

Within six weeks, the transplant melded into Reid's ankle.

"We have healthy bone with healthy cartilage all the way across the joint," Pena said.

"It feels like a new ankle. I'm now taking the stairs again. It's made just a huge difference in my life," Reid said.

With a new ankle, Reid is back to his old hobby.

Recovery time for the procedure is about three months. The doctor said it's for active patients from their teens to their 40s who only have arthritis on the bottom half of their ankle joint. That type of arthritis is usually the result of a break, severe sprain, or ligament damage and can develop years after the injury.

The doctor started doing this procedure four years ago. He’s now following patients to find out how long it will last, but he thinks it could be for life. A few other centers around the country are doing similar, but not exact procedures.

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