W. Va. Doctor Makes Sport Injury Advancements
A new surgery technique created by a West Virginia doctor and studied in the state is now catching the attention of athletes and surgeons around the United States.
The technique, developed by lifelong state resident Dr. Chad Lavender, helps to improve successes in orthopedic cases like ACL tears.
Dr. Seth Baublitz, an orthopedic surgeon in Lancaster, Pennsylvania doesn’t typically perform surgery on relatives, but he used Lavender’s technique on his own daughter last spring.
“I wanted to be the one that was going to do her surgery because I certainly felt like I could give her the best ACL,” he said.
The ACL, which is an acronym for anterior cruciate ligament, is one of the key ligaments that help stabilize your knee joint. Some awkward movements can tear this ligament, in which case it might need to be replaced through surgery.
Baublitz’s daughter played lacrosse in high school. During her senior year, out in the field, she tore her ACL.
“She went down, I happened to be on the sidelines… And I knew right away, it wasn't a good situation,” Baublitz said.
She would need an ACL reconstruction and have to sit out the rest of the season. But Baublitz had started using Lavender’s technique of surgery, and he hoped it would get his daughter back on her feet quickly.
“So I successfully did the procedure in April, and she was wearing high heels to prom two weeks later and certainly was running in about eight weeks,” he said.
Lavender, who created the surgical technique, works for Marshall Health Orthopedics in Scott Depot.
“It's really exciting for me, and for us here at Marshall, to hear these stories,” Lavender said.
Lavender grew up in Chesapeake, West Virginia. He attended medical school at Marshall University and got his bachelor’s degree at West Virginia University. There he played football, an experience that informed his medical career.
“I saw athletes get hurt, and how it affected their life, not just that year, but maybe the future,” Lavender said.
To treat a torn ACL, surgeons often use tendon from the patient's kneecap to create a new ligament.
Lavender wanted to improve upon this surgery to hopefully lessen postoperative pain and shorten recovery time. He brought in representatives from Arthrex, a medical device company.
“We sat down initially and we said ‘Here's our problem. How do we fix it?’” Lavender said.
His answer was the “fertilized ACL” technique. It uses stem cells taken from a patient’s bone marrow and an internal brace. The stem cells help with healing, and the brace helps with stability.
Lavender says most patients receiving this surgery are high school athletes.
“No matter whether somebody just needs to go back to work, or they need to play soccer next year, football next year, they all need to get back to doing what they love to do,” Lavender said.
Lavender has performed this surgery on about 150 patients. And he’s teaching the method to doctors across the globe.
Marshall Health is more than a year into a clinical trial that compares the healing of those who had a conventional ACL reconstruction with Lavender’s new method. The study isn’t published yet, but Lavender says preliminary data shows a difference. Typically, full recovery time with traditional ACL surgery is more than six months.
“We've tested every patient functionally at 12 weeks. The fertilized group is around 80% of their normal knee function at that time frame. The other group is around 30% of their normal knee function,” Lavender said.
This clinical study is still underway, but findings should be published within the next six months.
Lavender always envisioned that his technique would be created and studied in his home state. He said about one in 10 patients come from other states to receive this surgery.
“This is a technique that we think everybody in the state should be proud of,” Lavender said. “When you have people traveling to West Virginia for medical care, I think that's an outstanding thing.”
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.