A traumatic water skiing accident at the age of 19 left Denise Gilbert with a broken right tibia and fibula as well as a torn meniscus in the knee. Despite recovering from the incident, it resulted in post-traumatic osteoarthritis.
Denise continued exercising, even leading a running group, but she soon became stuck in a cycle of knee flare ups that would require RICE treatment (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate), and sometimes physiotherapy. Throughout the years that followed, Denise completely wore away the cartilage on the lateral side of her knee, resulting in a referral to see an orthopaedic consultant.
Denise explains: “The progressive degeneration of wear and tear in the knee caught up with me by 40 years of age with bone-on-bone osteoarthritis. Unaware of the extent of the arthritis, I continued exercising and even ran the London marathon aged 41. Looking back at photos at that time, I can now clearly see the valgus deformity (knock knee).
“I had heard about stem cell cartilage transplantation and chose to try that first (Gel ACI), in the hope that I could go back to running. Unfortunately, the arthritis was too advanced for it to really give much improvement as the bone was rubbing away any new cartilage formed. I tried to run again but it was too painful. The operation did, however, lessen my symptoms and I conservatively managed the knee for three years until it locked again and the pain increased.”
Denise was referred to The Horder Centre for an osteotomy (surgery to realign the knee joint) with Mr Paul Gibb, an expert orthopaedic surgeon in knee osteotomy surgery.
She adds: “I felt like I was given a gift, waking up from surgery with two straight legs. I was so happy, not only with the result of the surgery and that Dr Ludgrove (anaesthetist) did an amazing job with my pain relief, but I was being cared for by friends and colleagues and had lots of visitors. It was a really nice experience that I will never forget.”
Denise was able to return to the gym after four weeks to use the cycling and rowing machines at very low resistance. She was on crutches for eight weeks and then reduced to one stick until 12 weeks. As soon as she felt confident on her crutches around the pool, she began swimming. Over the course of her recovery, Denise attended physiotherapy at The Horder Centre with chartered physiotherapist Jack Rowe.
Denise said: “Jack has always been supportive and there for me whenever I needed him. He set exercises for mobility, stretching and to gradually build strength. At five months I turned a big corner and returned to my low impact exercise classes.
“Now 10 months on I still feel grateful every day. I can notice a more normal gait and I can go for days being pain-free.”
Denise is now able to go for long-distance walks and will attempt to complete the Yorkshire Three Peak Challenge in the summer.
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