Learn More from a BWH Cartilage Repair Expert
“I feel like if I were to go for a sixth Olympic Team there’s no possible way I would’ve been able to do this if I had not come to Brigham and Women’s and the Cartilage Repair Center.”
Elite swimmer Dara Torres, winner of 12 medals in five Olympic games, thought that cartilage damage in her knee was not only the possible end to her Olympic career but - more importantly - would sideline her from being the active mom she needs to be for her daughter, Tessa.
“My first and foremost priority is my daughter and not being able to pick her up and bend down and do that, or run after her, I just really wanted the quality-of-life. That was my first priority,” said Dara.
Wear and tear leads to debilitating injury
Throughout her long career, Dara has dealt with the aches, pains, and injuries common to competitive athletes. Leading up to and during the 2008 Summer Olympic games in Beijing, where she won three silver medals, Dara was dealing with a shoulder injury and experiencing knee pain that increasingly got worse.
“Once I got back from Beijing and got my shoulder fixed, I really focused on lower body training and abdominal training. And so, I overworked my legs. That’s when the knee problem really persisted. And within a year I went from about grade two arthritis to grade four arthritis. So it deteriorated pretty quickly…I had no cartilage in my knee and it was bone on bone.”
Referral to Brigham and Women’s
Having dealt with injuries in her past, Dara approached finding treatment for her knee injury with the same diligence and precision she used in training and competitions.
“When I realized how bad my knee injury was, the biggest thing I was scared about was that I wouldn’t be able to take care of my daughter and to possibly continue to swim,” she said. “I didn’t know if I would have to have a total knee replacement at my age, which was only 43, and I didn’t know if I would be able to walk again or run after my daughter…I was basically limping.”
Determined to find the best doctor and the best care, Dara began to explore her options.
“I do a lot of research and my doctor [in Florida, where she lives] suggested I meet with a doctor who works at Brigham and Women’s Hospital,” Dara said. “When he first told me about the Cartilage Repair Center, I had already decided that I was going to go somewhere else. But the Center and Brigham Women’s Hospital came so highly recommended that I thought, ‘You know what? I’m just gonna go up to Boston and go to the Cartilage Repair Center, meet the doctor and go by the hospital and see what it’s all about.”
Dara came up to Brigham and Women’s in the fall of 2009 and learned more about the Cartilage Repair Center and the groundbreaking work physicians were doing in the area of cartilage regeneration.
Dara undergoes treatment and surgery
After going back home to Florida and to weigh all her options, Dara made the decision and came back to Boston a few weeks later for treatment.
“The surgery that I had was really incredible. I didn’t know there was anything out there like that,” she recalled. “You have an arthroscopy. And they go in and they take a piece of cartilage out in a non-weight bearing area and they take the cells which are about 10,000 of them and grow them for about four or five weeks. It grows to about 50 to 60 million cells. And then when you have your major surgery and they’ve done all the reconstruction of the knee, they go back in and transplant the cartilage cells back into your knee. And what you hope happens is the cartilage grows onto your bone and hardens and thickens.”
Because she lived far from Boston, Dara’s doctor suggested that she see a colleague in Florida for follow-up care to make it easier and suit her busy schedule.
“He said I could go to a local doctor and I didn’t want to. I was so well taken care of by the Cartilage Repair Center that I decided I was going to fly up from Florida every time I needed an appointment,” said Dara.
The recovery time from the surgery and implantation is roughly one year. In that time, Dara has been following her doctor’s orders by not pushing it too much. As of May 2010, about six months after her surgery, Dara is well on the road to full recovery.
She said, “I notice big differences. I’m not limping anymore and I have a lot more flexibility. I have had about three MRIs since then and they’ve shown the progression of cartilage cells growing on my kneecap, you could see a nice thick layer of cartilage growing.”
Treatment restores quality-of-life
Dara is enjoying her restored quality-of-life. She has resumed an adjusted training program to ensure that she does not re-injure her knee and, above all, has the ability to be the active and involved mom she wants to be.
“The biggest reason for doing this was to be able to be there for my daughter, the way she needs me to be,” she said, “the swimming comes secondary.”
While it may come secondary, competitive swimming is still a huge part of Dara’s life.
“You know, people say to me ‘you’re 43 now and you’ll be 45 in the next Olympics, why don’t you let the young kids have chance’,” Dara said, “but if I’m still improving and I’m still the fastest, why can’t I go? I would love to go for a sixth Olympic games, my heart and my head say yes and I’m waiting to see if my body follows suit.”
This page was last modified on 11/17/2015