After heartbreaking failed treatments, Bridget Holt never gave up on finding a knee replacement alternative and finally found a way to return to her active lifestyle.
“I would tell other patients suffering a serious knee injury ‘Don’t give up,’” said patient Bridget Holt. For 20 years Bridget did not give up on finding a treatment for her debilitating knee condition.
As a 14 year old volleyball player, Bridget hit her right knee hard on the court. She experienced very minor symptoms from the injury and was back participating in sports in no time. She eventually stopped playing volleyball but continued swimming on her school’s swim team. Her knee occasionally irritated her but nothing too painful. She did not think much of her volleyball injury, but in a few years, Bridget would learn that it was the beginning of a long battle with complications from her knee injury.
After graduating high school, she was accepted to the University of Central Florida (UCF). Her Freshman year, Bridget took a step aerobics class. Once the class was over, she immediately started having severe symptoms in her right knee – extensive swelling, locking and extreme pain – that were diagnosed as a meniscus tear requiring surgical treatment.
Living and going to school in Orlando, Florida, Bridget decided to travel to her home town of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to receive treatment. She had a meniscectomy to remove the torn portion of the meniscus. The remaining meniscus was sculpted to minimize the chance of a re-tear. The tear was so severe that Bridget had swelling in her knee for 6-8 months following her surgery, but she was pain free for ten years after the swelling went down.
Bridget went on to graduate from UCF with a Bachelor’s in Spanish and Business and got married. It was not until she and her husband moved to Boston that she began experiencing pain again. “When I walked up and down the stairs in the subway, it felt like a knife was in my knee,” said Bridget.
Concerned about her symptoms, she decided to consult an ivy-league trained orthopedic surgeon. The physician told Bridget that she had an early onset of arthritis because of the meniscectomy. She was told that she would need a complex and difficult procedure called a meniscus transplant. “Since the physician I saw was well-credentialed and had a positive reputation in the community, I thought that I was in good hands,” said Bridget.
In 2010, Bridget had a meniscus transplant procedure in Boston. “It was the worst experience of my life,” Bridget said. “For the first 3 months following the procedure, my leg blew up. It felt like it was worse than it was before the procedure.” Shortly after the surgery, she and her husband moved back to Florida and Bridget began her search to discover what was wrong with her knee.
“I was in so much pain,” she said. “I avoided most activities because I couldn’t walk or stand for an extended period of time. I asked myself, ‘how am I supposed to live my life like this?’” There was a moment when Bridget was asked by a friend’s seven year-old son to play catch outside. “I cried. I couldn’t go outside and play because of my knee. ‘How was I supposed to ever raise my own children?’” Bridget went to doctor after doctor in Florida and each gave her a different answer—not one doctor knew what was really wrong. Bridget began to feel hopeless.
With encouragement from her father who lives in Colorado and a friend who was a nurse at Vail Health, Bridget decided to travel to Vail to meet with Dr. Robert LaPrade in 2011.
Bridget said, “The first time I met with Dr. LaPrade, he shook my hand, sat down next to me and asked ‘where does it hurt?’ He immediately knew what was wrong. He told me that my meniscus transplant was extruding from the joint, causing pain, swelling and tearing. It needed to be anatomically corrected.”
“Dr. LaPrade is so wonderful,” said Bridget. “He is a hundred percent honest and direct; he won’t tell you something that isn’t true and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. At the same time, he is immensely kind and cares about your health and the outcomes of his procedures.”
In 2011, Dr. LaPrade cleaned out bone spurs and tears in Bridget’s right knee, but wasn’t able to re-position the meniscus like he had hoped. Dr. LaPrade said, eventually we will have to replace this transplant. “I was worried, but for three years, I did not experience any symptoms in my knee,” said Bridget. “My husband and I got pregnant and during my entire pregnancy, I did not have any pain or swelling. I worked out often, even going to spin class three times a week until I was 32 weeks pregnant. Then, when my son turned two years old, my knee started to swell again.”
“When I went back to see Dr. LaPrade, he told me the original meniscus transplant was no longer working. I was going to need another meniscus transplant, and we would also need to address capsular deficiency in the knee, which is very difficult to do,” she said. “At the time, I had a two-year old and a husband in a PhD program, so it was not a good time for a big procedure like this. I hoped I could make it another three years before this surgery, but Dr. LaPrade told me I was not going to get another three years with the original transplant.”
In September of 2015, Dr. LaPrade performed Bridget’s second meniscus transplant. A meniscus transplant allograph must be sourced from a deceased donor whose anatomy closely matches the patient—in Bridget’s case a 16 year old girl. During this surgery, Dr. LaPrade also performed a capsular repair in the front and back of her joint. While this had never been successfully done before and had previously been believed to be a reason to not perform a meniscus transplant in patients, Dr. LaPrade was able to separate her own joint lining from scar tissue and successfully sew it back into the new meniscus transplant.
In the recovery room, Dr. LaPrade told Bridget, “I worked hard in the OR for two hours, now you are going to have to work hard every day for two hours. “
The road to recovery was long and hard. Bridget diligently attended physical therapy in Vail for the first two weeks after surgery. She returned to Florida and found a great physical therapist, Bill Biaggi at Orlando Sports Medicine Physical Therapy who she continues to work with on a weekly basis. She was on crutches for two months, and her husband became a full time caregiver to her and her toddler while pursuing his PhD. Between her family and work, it was hard to find time to go to the gym, so she bought a spin bike to maintain her physical therapy at home.
Bridget said, “I’ve had to work just as hard as Dr. LaPrade every day to ensure a positive outcome, as physical therapy is a critical component to the success of the surgery. Dr. LaPrade’s team and the Howard Head physical therapists set up a comprehensive, and easy to follow program that I continued at home with my Orlando therapist. This was a team effort, the support of the Vail team, Bill, my husband and my family have helped me tremendously in the healing process.
Doing rehab out of state, Bridget said, “The team in Vail is so kind and accessible. Every time I emailed or called with a post-surgery question or concern, Amanda or Tyler would get back to me right away. It didn’t feel like the clinic was half way across the country.”
In 2016, she visited Dr. LaPrade for a scope to remove scar tissue and reduce swelling. During the surgery, it was found that the meniscus transplant and joint lining had successfully healed. “I essentially have a whole new knee. My knee is once again structurally sound, without any artificial components. I am so grateful to Dr. LaPrade that I did not have to resort to a joint replacement at such a young age, because joint replacements, on average, last about 20 years. I would be crippled one day without Dr. LaPrade and my transplant donor, and I am so very thankful every single day that they have given me my life back.”
“I want other patients to know that none of this was easy, and if you are young and staring down the possibility of joint replacement, there may be a knee replacement alternative for you,” she said. “However, learn from my mistakes. Research your doctor’s success in the particular procedure you need, and ask a lot of questions.”
Dr. LaPrade noted that “Bridget has been a delight to work with. She understood the odds against her, recognized that she had to follow our rehabilitation plan precisely, and has benefited from this. I wish the very best for her and her family.”
Having performed over 300 meniscus transplants successfully, published results in top peer-reviewed research journals, and then continuing to research surgery outcomes as the Chief Medical Officer at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, Bridget was reassured that she made the right decision by trusting Dr. LaPrade to save her leg.
“As hard as this has been, I never lost hope. It’s much easier said than done, but every day you have to try, and you have to say to yourself, ‘I can beat this. What other options do I have?’ I’ve come out on the other side of this so grateful. I feel that I’ve gotten to peek behind the curtain of life like so many who have a chronic illness or injury. When life gets difficult, you have to dig in. Wine tastes better, the air is sweeter, and every moment in this life is more beautiful. I’ve gotten a second chance at an active life—I am the luckiest person in the world.”