Sports Goals Realized with Innovative Surgical Procedure
For her entire life, Emilie Miller was an athlete. She still is. But the road to return from a severe injury that interrupted her sports career was a long one.
The trouble began in Miller’s sophomore year at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. One of a family of five athletes, Miller, majoring in early childhood education, was also a member of the basketball team. During a practice, she took a bad fall, her legs tangling with other players’. It caused a dislocated patella (kneecap), damaging the surrounding cartilage and throwing off the knee joint’s tracking alignment.
The knee is guided by a complex joint that connects the two bones of the lower leg with the thigh bone. A tracking disorder, which can be caused by damage to surrounding cartilage or ligaments, means that the kneecap moves out of place, preventing its usual smooth gliding motion.
A Second Opinion
At an appointment with an orthopaedist, Miller was presented with stark options. One was extensive surgery with an unclear promise of desired benefit; the second was to do absolutely nothing and stop playing sports. “As active as I am, I didn’t like either of those options,” she says. In fact, she emphasizes, “hearing them crushed me.”
Discouraged by that appointment, Miller sought out a second opinion. She had been a patient four years prior at University Orthopaedic Associates (UOA), when in high school she had injured the same knee. Her sister, a competitive gymnast, had also benefitted from the services at UOA.
Miller wanted to return to the same medical practice, and her faith was immediately restored when she explained to Dr. Hosea the prior options given to her. Following an MRI, she was told that neither of those two options were viable: she was too young for the surgery described, and “doing nothing was not an option.”
The First Surgery
Today, the 24-year-old Metuchen, New Jersey native and elementary school teacher and basketball coach explains, “I felt like he really listened to me, who I was and what my plans, goals and dreams were going forward. I was an athlete. I played sports my whole life. I was not going to say, ‘OK, I’m done.’ I trusted the doctor right away. In fact, I appreciated every person there (UOA).”
In January 2014, Miller underwent same-day surgery with a patella lateral release and realignment to repair the alignment issues. Following the procedure, her knee was immobilized for six weeks, after which she underwent physical therapy.
The DeNovo Trial
By June of that year, however, she says, “things didn’t feel right.” A follow-up MRI revealed a hole in the kneecap cartilage. It was then that the experts at UOA recommended Miller become part of a study for a DeNovo® NT Graft. This entails donor cartilage tissue used for the repair of joint cartilage.
The DeNovo NT®, an FDA approved cartilage repair technique, is used on athletes from professionals to recreational. At least one study has found that among subjects tested, the DeNovo NT® used on the patella provided pain relief and improved outcomes.
After agreeing to be part of the study, Miller was introduced to Patricia Seuffert, MS, APN, the Research Coordinator at UOA. Patricia would prove to be a crucial support system for Miller. That’s because even with successful surgery, while she could do other sports (swimming, biking, running), she had to absorb the fact that her basketball career was over.
The news was devastating, but she progressed from that devastation to hope. And she still had sports goals. “I was comforted both by Dr. Hosea and Patricia. I believed in them 110 percent. They deal with athletes all the time, even professionals. That was what I wanted going forward.”
She waited the required year following her previous surgery, focusing on her studies and becoming a manager of her college basketball team to stay involved. Finally, the date for surgery was set. “We’re spending New Year’s together!” Patricia Seuffert emailed her. On December 30, 2014, she underwent the DeNovo procedure. It was followed by more knee immobilization, more time on crutches and more rehab. But her faith in her medical team helped sustain her.
Patients Come First at UOA
Throughout regular check-up appointments, including at one and two years, Emilie Miller’s follow-up care was closely coordinated by Patricia. She scheduled appointments to accommodate Miller’s travel time from college in Pennsylvania to New Jersey. She was always in contact, and very supportive. “Every time I came into the office, it was a very pleasant experience,” relates Miller. “I knew they were giving me their best.”
As time clicked by, the anxious athlete would ask Dr. Bechler and Dr. Gatt what activities she could try. She had a dream: to do an Ironman 70.3 (half Ironman). “At two years, they told me that everything looked good.” But how to proceed with exercise? She was counseled, “You won’t know until you try. Just listen to your body.”
And listen she has. Progressing very carefully in training, she and her father have trained for and done two Ironman 70.3 events together, with a third planned. After the first one, in June 2017, Miller says that when she crossed the finish line, “I was overwhelmed to think of where I had been, and where I was at that moment.”
Through it all, Miller remained close with Patricia Seuffert. “We’d communicate by phone and email. I felt it was not just about the medical appointments, but that the staff cared about me overall. They knew my end goals were big.” Next up for Miller and her dad: another Ironman 70.3, scheduled for June 2019.
Following both of her Ironman events, Miller reached out to Patricia, “just to let her know how great everything was,” she said. “I always think of her and the UOA sports medicine doctors as such a big part of me getting to the finish line.”
UOA: Cutting-Edge Procedures, Human Touch
If you have sustained a sports injury, request an appointment with one of the sports medicine experts at UOA. We’ll determine the nature of your injury and provide treatment options that work for you and your lifestyle. We’ll work around your schedule, and you’ll be able to schedule appointments at the UOA locations that are most convenient for you.