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Back on Pointe After an ACL Tear

Shine from Yahoo!—August 4, 2011

In June of 2000, I was guest teaching at the American Ballet Theatre studios in New York City when I landed from a jump and crumpled to the floor. I wasn't entirely taken by surprise. I had partially torn my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) 12 years earlier. This time I knew the ligament had snapped in two. I hopped over to a chair, asked for an ice pack, and taught the rest of class. Then I took a cab home, looked up the number for Hospital for Special Surgery.    

The next morning, I made an appointment with Frank Cordasco, M.D., a top "knee man." To my immense relief, I learned from him that fairly recent techniques for surgical repair of ACL tears had been upping the odds of successful outcomes. He also assured me that as a Third Ager I was still a good candidate for the procedures. I could get an "autograft" fashioned from one of my own patellar tendons or hamstrings or I could opt for an "allograft" from a deceased donor.

Dr. Cordasco explained that in the latter case, given that there is no blood flow in soft tissues, my body wouldn't recognize the graft as foreign and try to reject it. 

I'm glad I did. By now studies have shown that the failure rate for allografts is only slightly higher than for autografts – about 8% vs. 3%. Also, research confirms that allograft patients experience far less pain and a much quicker recovery than autograft patients do.

That still amazes me when I think back to the day my physical therapist unlocked the "joint" on my knee brace three weeks after the surgery and said cheerfully, "Now it's time for gait training." As I took my first uncertain steps, pirouettes seemed to be a very long way off. Yet I was soon walking at a fine clip on a treadmill and using the StairMaster. By post-op week six, I could balance on my right leg on a trampoline. That's when I first realized that my knee was absolutely stable. 

For me, the allograft has unquestionably proved to be the right choice. 

This story originally appeared at yahoo.com.



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