Stem Cells Reach New Heights

FRESNO, Calif.

Vern Tejas spends most of his life on top of the world.

His resume includes conquering Mount McKinley 40 times, Mount Kilimanjaro 20 times and Mount Everest nine times.

"The physical challenge of going someplace that's off the beaten road ... " Tejas told Ivanhoe.

A broken ankle from 30 years ago created his biggest barrier yet.

"It's getting to the point where I'm limping," Tejas explained.

The cartilage in between his subtalar joint right below the ankle, was gone.

"The conventional treatment for that is to fuse the subtalar joint which means make it stiff," S. Robert Rozbruch, M.D., chief, Limb Lengthening and Complex Reconstruction Service Hospital for Special Surgery, said.

That's not an option for Tejas. So, doctors tried a new approach. Implant a fixator for three months that pulls apart the joint. Then, inject stem cells in the new four-millimeter space where cartilage will regenerate. "We used stem cells derived from his pelvis," Dr. Rozbruch added.

Dr. Rozbruch has done 100 of these procedures on ankle joints. Ninety percent of patients are relieved of pain and don't need fusions.

"Basically you see a reversal of arthritis," Dr. Rozbruch said.

"Look at the difference you can see a space, there's about three millimeters of cartilage compared to nothing," Dr. Rozbruch described.

"With this new technique I'll have a foot than can go 20, 30 years," Tejas concluded.

A climbing king who wasn't going to let pain prevent him from his next adventure.

This is the first time ever the procedure was done in the joint below the ankle. Tejas's next trip is an expedition across the south pole this month. Dr. Rozbruch says the cartilage continues to regenerate years after the procedure. If it doesn't work, patients can still have a fusion.

Robert Rozbruch, MD
Chief, Limb Lengthening and Complex Reconstruction Service
Hospital For Special Surgery
(212) 606-1415

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