Grow Your ACL: Grand County Multi-Sport Athlete Receives First Specialized Implant Procedure in Colorado

Olivia Stefanik, 16, of West Grand High School, was the first patient from Colorado, and reportedly the second patient from the western United States, to undergo a BEAR implant procedure, or bridge-enhanced ACL restoration , to regrow a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
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Whether it’s pole vaulting for the track team or competing on the women’s wrestling team, 16-year-old Olivia Stefanik is a multi-sport competitor at West Grand High School ready to try new and exciting things.

Due to his sports activities, Stefanik ended up trying something new. She was the first patient in Colorado, and apparently the second patient in the western United States, to undergo a BEAR implant procedure, or bridge-reinforced ACL restoration, to regrow a torn anterior cruciate ligament. in his knee.

The implant is a medical game-changer that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for commercial surgical use in December 2021, and Steamboat Springs orthopedic surgeon Dr. Alex Meininger was the first doctor to perform the procedure. establishment in Colorado.

The Steamboat Orthopedic and Spine Institute surgeon had closely followed the development of implant technology for a decade. About two weeks after FDA approval, he asked Stefanik if she wanted to choose the implant option, which must be used within 50 days of an ACL injury. Stefanik said she opted for implant surgery to avoid having an above-knee graft taken.

“It’s a revolutionary approach to ACL surgery to help prevent complications and naturally heal your own ligament,” said Meininger, an orthopedic surgeon of 11 years.

The bridge-reinforced restoration uses a specially developed protein sponge that is injected with the patient’s blood and surgically placed between the torn sections of the patient’s ACL.

In her very first wrestling encounter which took place at Soroco High School in early December 2021, Stefanik was pulled into an awkward position by her wrestling opponent and felt instant pain.

“The moment it happened, I knew something had happened right away. It hurt a lot,” Stefanik said. “The North Fork girl was in some kind of chokehold and was trying to swing on her body. My foot was wrapped around her leg when she pulled me, so when my foot was stuck, her leg bent my leg.

Since Steamboat Springs is an active and athletic town, Meininger has now completed 10 of the BEAR implant procedures, starting with Stefanik’s surgery in late December 2021. The surgeon has used the implant for patients ages 12 to 44 years, ranging from local patients to outpatients. -patients in town who tore their ACL while skiing at Steamboat.

The doctor said ACL tears are most common in alpine skiing and contact soccer, followed by soccer and basketball injuries. Meininger said the downside of implant surgery is the requirement for a smoother and longer recovery. Recovery time from implant surgery to full activities is typically eight months, about two months longer than traditional ACL repair surgery, he said.

Positives of the implant include avoiding graft harvesting and achieving a more accurate reproduction of normal ACL anatomy in terms of position, location and tension. The blood-infused sponge, which dissolves after two months in the body, acts as a framework or bridge for the body to heal the ligament. Similar applications of regenerative medicine and sponge implants are used in heart, shoulder, nerve and blood vessel procedures, Meininger noted.

For athletes and younger patients, medical studies show an 86% return to athletic success with BEAR surgery versus 70% with traditional ACL surgery. Meininger hopes the implant technique will also reduce the usual 20% risk of repeat ACL tears.

The Steamboat surgeon repairs approximately 100 ACL tears each year, so BEAR implant surgery accounts for 10% of his repairs currently. In two years, Meininger expects that proportion to rise to 50%. he was the only surgeon in Colorado to perform the procedure until last week, when a Denver surgeon completed a procedure, according to Michael McNulty, vice president of sales and marketing at implant developer Miach Orthopedics.

The BEAR implant was developed by Dr. Martha Murray of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital, with initial research funding provided by the NFL Players Association, Boston Children’s Hospital and the National Institutes of Health.

Now six months into his recovery, Stefanik is swimming and walking his dog. She is looking forward to competing again in the pole vault, her favorite event, and breaking the school record at West Grand High School in Kremmling where she will be a junior this school year. Her personal best in the pole vault so far is 8ft 6in, and she and her coaches believe she will be able to clear 9ft 6in next season.

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