Will miracle surgery get her back in swim?
It looked like five and out for golden girl Dara Torres when she was stuck down with a debilitating knee injury. The 42-year-old mom from Florida set a record in 2008 when she competed at her fifth OLympic Games in beijing. During a glittering swimming career, she has amassed an incredible 12 Olympic medals, including four golds. But in recent months she’s had to face up to the very real threat of a career-ending injury. Her knees have been bowing to the pressure of age-related deterioration that plagues millions of Amercians.
She has been suffering from extreme pain in her left knee, the result of wear and tear on her cartilage. “Some days it hurts to walk”, admits Dara , who has a 3-year-old daughter, Tessa. “Going up and down stairs-forget it.”
“I would like to be able to go to the London Olympics in 2012 and to chase my daughter around without any pain in my knees.” In a bid to end her pain-and realize her Olympics dream-the bombshell opted for a revolutionary new procedure called an Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation(ACI). It was performed by Dr.Tom Minas of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Instead of invasive surgery,he used biotechnology to strengthen her knees by implanting them with her own cartilage cells. First the doc removed 10,000 cartilage cells-the size of three tic tac mints-from Dara’s knee. These were then sent to a lab and grown for several weeks until they numbered close to 50 million cells. Dara’s knee was then opened up and the cells implanted into the hole directly where the cartilage was missing.Now the swimmer has to wait while,hopefully,the cells regenerate into healthy cartilage. However, Dr.Bal Raj,the famous Beverly Hills orthopedic surgeon known as Dr.Raj to his patients,tells GLOBE that the procedure isn’t for everyone.
“while the results have been encouraging,they are not 100 percent effective,”he says.”We can do partial or full knee-replacement surgery that can take care of the problem and relieve the pain immediately. “It’s important to get several opinions before taking any route.” For Torres, it appears that her innovative treatment is working. “My knee is doing great,”she says.”They did an MRI scan that showed the cartilage is growing.”