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Repairing infected bones

December 26, 2011 2:57:49 PM PST
We're born with about 300 to 350 bones in our bodies. By the time we reach adulthood and bones fuse together, we're down to 206. And when an infection strikes, our bones can be in trouble! One doctor is finding ways to heal bones that won't heal.

Getting home from work is no easy trek for Rick Trecartin. Although the view can't be beat he still has to walk several blocks from his office and catch a ferry each and every day. Even though he's done it for decades, this routine almost became unbearable.

"I knew I had a problem," Rick said.

After suffering from arthritis for years, Rick went in for a knee procedure. He came out with the MRSA, an antibiotic resistant infection.

"All of a sudden, I started getting this pus out of the lesion of the leg where they had cut my skin," Rick said.

The infection was in Rick's bone just two centimeters from his knee joint. If it got inside the knee doctors might have amputated his leg. But orthopedic surgeon Amir Matityahu had a different plan.

"You need to stop it as soon as possible to take care of the infection," Amir Matityahu, M.D., an Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and Director of Pelvis and Acetabular Trauma and Reconstruction Orthopedic Trauma Institute at SFGH and UCSF, explained.

First he cleaned out Rick's bone and placed hardware inside to keep it stable. Then he implanted a wafer filled with antibiotics near the knee. The high dose of antibiotics spread to the surrounding area killing the bacteria.

"Bone is amazing. Bone actually heals without scar," Dr. Matityahu said.

After six weeks of antibiotics, bone from Rick's hip was transferred to his leg to replace what had deteriorated. Now Rick's bone has completely healed.

"I just had a blood test to see if I had any indications of infection, and I don't," Rick said.

"If that infection got worse, he could have lost his leg," Dr. Matityahu explained.

The next step for Rick is a knee replacement. He feels lucky to have that option.

"Amir saved my leg, and in the process saved my life. He really did and I appreciate what he's done for me," Rick stated.

A greatful patient who's looking forward to getting out of the doctor's office and on with his life. The doctor says smokers and people with diabetes have a difficult time with bone healing. Sometimes, their bones never heal. In the best cases, these patients can get their knees fused. In the worst cases, they will need their leg amputated.

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