A Doncaster teacher is hoping to bounce back to the sport she loves after undergoing a knee transplant operation.
Netballer Kathryn Stephens is looking forward to getting back into the game after the op at the Hospital of St Cross in Rugby, Warwickshire.
34-year-old Kathryn, from Bessacarr, was the 200th patient at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust to undergo a meniscal transplant - where a replacement meniscus, or ‘knee cartilage’, from a recently deceased donor is implanted into the knee.
The PE teacher was given the transplant in a two hour operation after she damaged her knee during a netball match for her team Sheffield Stormers two seasons ago.
Kathryn explained: “I had my dream job as a PE teacher, and I was also really enjoying playing netball for my team at the top of the Northern League, when I landed awkwardly on my right knee during a match.
“I knew instantly something was really wrong, especially as back in 2010 I’d suffered a tear to the side of my meniscus – the cartilage ‘cushion’ in my knee.
“I’d had an op at a hospital near my home in Doncaster to remove cartilage, but since then, my knee had got worse, so when it ‘went’ during the match, there was bone-on-bone impact, and I was in excruciating pain.
“Luckily my colleague Dan had the answer. He’d had a transplant performed by Mr Tim Spalding at the Hospital of St Cross in Rugby to replace his worn meniscus. I spoke to Mr Spalding and my consultant in Doncaster and luckily I was able to get referred.
“I’m really grateful to Mr Spalding and all the staff at St Cross for taking such good care of me, as well as to the organ donor who must have already helped so many other people.”
Meniscal grafts like other transplant tissue come from organ donors. Unlike organs like kidneys or lungs, patients don’t have to take immunosuppressant drugs following surgery.
However, they do have to wait until a meniscus is available from a donor who was their size.
Mr Tim Spalding, Orthopaedic Consultant, said: “Kathryn is the 200th patient at UHCW NHS Trust to have a meniscal transplant, and I’m so pleased she’s doing so well.
“The meniscus is sometimes called the ‘footballer’s cartilage’ because we get a lot of younger patients presenting with tears and other injuries that can be really debilitating.
“Meniscal transplants are suitable for younger patients under 50 who’ve had some form of cartilage surgery before, either for a genetic condition or an injury. At St Cross, we’ve performed more of these operations than anywhere else in the country.
“It’s a really innovative, specialist treatment that can now even be done through a keyhole procedure. It isn’t offered in that many places, which is why patients like Kathryn have to travel so far.
“It’s about buying time for the knee, putting back the ‘cushion’, so that these young people can get back to work and a normal way of life. It can leave them free from pain for 15-20 years until they’re more age-appropriate to need any more invasive surgery.
“I’m really grateful to work at a place like UHCW NHS Trust that allows us to perform such innovative surgery that makes such a difference to our patients’ lives.”
Kathryn added: “I used to play netball three to four times a week, and it was such a massive part of my life. It’s been so hard to go from that to nothing at all, but being a PE teacher, I had to consider my profession over my hobbies.
“I’ve been umpiring and coaching netball to keep my interest going and keep in touch with all the girls, but I’ve really missed that aspect of my life.
“My hope for the future is that I’ll be able to go about my daily life without being in pain. Little things like walking up and down the hill between my school and the hockey astroturf the pupils use, as well as playing with my nephew.
“The pain gets worse when you’re out in the cold by the side of a netball court or football pitch. I’d even changed my car because of my injury so that I didn’t have to bend so much to get in and out, which isn’t something that a 30-something ever expects to have to do. Luckily the headteacher at my school has been so supportive.
“I won’t ever be able to play netball at such a high level again, but I’m hoping to be able to go back to some gentler forms of sport. As Mr Spalding says, it’s a marathon not a sprint!”