H.C. Martensen works in the AlloSource tissue processing core where he is faced with the powerful realities and possibilities of tissue donation and transplantation every day. He also has the utmost confidence in the allografts that he and his tissue bank colleagues produce, so much so that he recently requested one for his own transplant.

Over the summer H.C. returned to his former university, Colorado College in Colorado Springs, for an alumni soccer game. He played on the team in college, and since then remained very athletic, participating in triathlons and skiing. However, at the time of the game, it had been a while since he’d played soccer. Following a cutting motion on the field he felt his leg let go below the knee. H.C. instantly knew what had occurred, not only because of his work, but also because a close friend had sustained a torn ACL just
three days prior.

Shortly thereafter a surgeon confirmed it – H.C.’s ACL and lateral meniscus were torn
and he needed surgery and an allograft transplant. Although the surgeon did not
historically use allografts from AlloSource, H.C. made a special request to have his
graft come from the tissue bank. His surgery required a patella ligament bone-tendon-bone graft, which he received from a 33-year-old male donor.

“Just a few years older than me,” H.C. said. “It added to the perspective that I’ve had.

I’m presented with the reality of the business we’re in everyday. Seeing young donors come in is hard. Now that I’ve personally benefitted I’m further grateful for the gift of donation and even more aware of what we do.”

Since his surgery in June, H.C.’s recovery has been progressing very well and he just
completed his final functional evaluation in physical therapy. Although his knee isn’t yet 100%, he knows it shouldn’t be back to normal this soon after the injury, and his road to recovery has been swifter than other patients with similar injuries. Of course, H.C. intends to make the most of his gift of life – he will be training for triathlons.

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It was the holidays and Sarah was a young professional excited about her new job in the finance department of a large Denver company. Fun-loving and outgoing, Sarah was happy to offer up her talents for the playful “Stupid Human Tricks” competition at the company’s annual year end party.

Sarah’s trick was a squirm-inducing move she’d been doing since she was a little girl: rising up on her tiptoes, she would rotate her feet until her toes were pointing straight behind her body, with her legs still together. But the trick didn’t go smoothly this time.

“My ankle popped; I thought I broke it,” Sarah said. “The pain was so bad. It was horrible.”

During an initial trip to the doctor, Sarah’s injury was misdiagnosed as a sprain. She went home hoping it would heal on its own. For the next several years Sarah tried to deal with the pain, but her ankle was never the same. The injury began to take a serious toll on her active lifestyle: she could no longer do the things she loved, including skiing and running. She would push herself to play team sports like kickball, but be miserable from the pain for days afterwards.

An eventual trip to an ankle specialist revealed what Sarah already had a suspicion of: her injury was much more serious than a sprain. In fact, the peroneal tendon on the outside of her foot was torn, and worse, a large portion of the cartilage on her ankle joint had torn off. Although her tendon was repaired with a surgery, initial attempts to heal the joint were unsuccessful. Sarah had lost too much cartilage, a tissue the body is incapable of reproducing.

Sarah’s doctor suggested treatment with an autograft, whereby bone and cartilage from her own knee would be transplanted into the injured ankle. As luck would have it, by now Sarah was working for one of the nation’s premier tissue banks, AlloSource. Here she had become aware of the tissue transplantation process. Sarah knew that although frequently used to treat injuries, autografts could lead to other complications: in her case the potential for infection in her healthy knee, a slower recovery from two surgeries and more.

Sarah urged her doctor to consider an allograft transplant, a gift of life from a deceased donor. The decision was made to use one of the newer allografts available thanks to new science: juvenile cartilage.

These grafts, bravely donated by the families of donors just one month to 12 years old, had been found to stimulate new cartilage growth when implanted with stem cells.

Following her tissue transplant, Sarah’s results have been miraculous. After a final surgery in December 2010, her doctors found that cartilage is indeed regenerating in Sarah’s ankle.

“It’s fascinating to see this cartilage regrowing,” Sarah said. And she is able to feel the benefits already.

“I can ski again and it doesn’t hurt. I’ve started to wear high heels again; I haven’t worn high heels for years! It feels really good.”

Her work at a tissue bank has heightened Sarah’s respect for her second chance at a healthy life:

“I have had the opportunity to see it from the perspective that everyone should see it from; I have interacted with donor families and really comprehend that this is a gift of life that somebody else gave to me because they lost their own.”

Sarah also reports a stronger kinship with her colleagues at AlloSource, who work 24/7 to process donated human tissue into allografts used for a host of surgical applications around the country.

“Processing these allografts is tedious and includes a lot of hard work. I’ve been able to thank the techs I work with for what they do every day.”

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Rachel was a typical college athlete: focused, intense, and determined. When a knee injury threatened her ability to complete in her final soccer season, she simply played through the pain.

It wasn’t long before Rachel discovered she could no longer “grin and bear” her meniscus injury. She had to have the injured tissue replaced with an allograft – sidelining her for months from any physical activity.

“It was a difficult decision,” recalls Rachel. “But movement is everything to me. I knew I had to have the procedure.”

Today, Rachel went back to competition. In fact, she completed the Hawaii Ironman 70.3 Triathlon in May 2009, something she only dreamed of prior to her allograft meniscus replacement.

Inspired by her experience, Rachel chose orthopedics as her field of specialty in medical school as an MD candidate at Rush University Medical Center.

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Mckenzie was an athletic, active child plagued by constant knee pain. After realizing it was more serious than just growing pains, her parents knew they had to see a doctor. When reviewing Mckenzie’s MRI, her doctor noticed a spot on her femur. He diagnosed Mckenzie with a rare tumor condition called Chondroblastoma, which can cause pain and recurring tumors. The condition generally affects long bones and is most common in children and young adults.

The pain forced Mckenzie to end her soccer career, a sport she played and loved since kindergarten. Normal activities like walking and standing became excruciating. “It wasn’t easy being diagnosed with something so serious as a child,” said Mckenzie. “My life came to a complete stop. My family and I knew we needed to do something because it wasn’t a pain I could spend the rest of my life with.” Since her diagnosis, Mckenzie has endured five surgeries to remove tumors and clean up her leg. In each surgery, she received donated tissue.

“I think it is amazing what we can do and how we can help others in need,” she said. “I am so thankful I was able to receive tissue.” Mckenzie received a juvenile cartilage allograft in her most recent surgery. Juvenile cartilage allografts come from donors aged one month to 12-years-old. Though she still faces some limitations, Mckenzie is pain-free and has been able to return to some of her favorite sports. “My life won’t ever be 100% normal because of what the tumor did to my leg, but this has helped me in getting my life back,” she said. “If I hadn’t had this procedure I could have eventually lost my leg.”

Mckenzie is grateful for the tissue donation that helped her heal and hopes sharing her experience will encourage others to register as organ, eye and tissue donors. “The only thing I can be is thankful to still be here, as healthy as I can be, and to make sure to tell my story to help others realize how important it is to be a donor.”

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As a world-class martial arts competition medalist and popular teacher in the San Francisco Bay area, May 61, teaches 30 hours a week and practices for competitions and performances. She also serves as a judge at international martial arts competitions.

A knee injury threatened to end her career altogether. May’s left knee began to swell after workouts, and physical therapy didn’t help. She met with doctors but resisted surgery because she felt it would interfere with her competitions. Cortisone injections and later Hyalgan injections were used to lubricate her knee, but after three months the initial positive effects wore off. Her doctor suggested an allograft transplant. At first May felt strange about donated tissue, but then decided that it would be her best chance at resuming a normal life. She received a fresh tissue transplant from a young donor who lost his life in a car accident, and her recovery was quite remarkable.

Since her transplant, May has returned to martial arts competition with continued success. She serves as judge in international competitions in the Bay Area and as a member of the U.S. Wushu team, she won two individual World Championship medals in China. When she returned home, she sent the medals and a note to AlloSource, which processed the tissue for her transplant, and asked that the medals be given to the donor family.

“Everything I’ve done since the transplant and all that’s to come are because of the tissue donor family,” said May. “The allograft gave me a second chance to fulfill an unrealized destiny.”

May continues to teach and compete with a new life and vigor to her practice. She views her new knee as a gift and intends to keep making a difference with it.

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