“There is a lot of literature to indicate that stem cells have great potential to induce and accelerate healing,” said Dr. David Lintner, orthopedic surgeon and chief of sports medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital. “It seems to be advantageous to use stem cells when a muscle, tendon or ligament might otherwise have a limited ability to heal, which is often the case with rotator cuff repairs.”
Paul Hanna is an avid golfer and leads an active lifestyle. In early 2002, the then 34-year-old began experiencing pain in his left shoulder. It was so severe at times that his shoulder would hurt for a week after a round of golf. After being diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff, he tried physical therapy, but it did not work. In January 2003, he underwent surgery to remove bone spurs and damaged tissue, but that also did not relieve the pain. He then underwent a second rotator cuff repair surgery in late 2003.
“After the second surgery, my shoulder was pretty much pain free for about seven years,” said Hanna. “Then, for no apparent reason, I started having pain again. I decided then that with my history of problems, it was time to find another option.”
In February 2012, Hanna came to Houston Methodist Hospital to try a new procedure that involves using his own stem cells. During the surgery, Lintner created a small hole in the upper arm bone and drew out some of Hanna’s bone marrow. In the same operating room, specialized equipment was used to separate the stem cells from the bone marrow. After repairing the rotator cuff, Lintner then injected the stem cells directly into the repair site. Stem cells help rotator cuffs heal through their ability to transform into other types of healthy cells, such as tendons, and replace damaged cells.
“After more than 10 years of shoulder issues, I finally feel like I’ve got a chance at a healthy shoulder,” said Hanna. “I’m doing physical therapy to get back my strength and range of motion, and my shoulder feels better than it has in years.”
Lintner says the surgery has been so successful in shoulders that he has begun to use stem cells in anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus repair surgeries. Other physicians throughout Houston Methodist, including Dr. Mark Maffet at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, are now offering this procedure.
“We all know that rotator cuff repairs have difficulty healing,” said Lintner. “I’m hopeful that the success of this surgery will significantly increase the probability of every patient’s rotator cuff healing quickly and completely.”
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Hannah F. Pietsch