My Journey Through MPFL Reconstruction Part 2 (The Procedure)

Above is an animated video of an MFPL Reconstruction, the procedure that I will be having in two days.  There are other videos of the actual live procedure, but no amount of Nip/Tuck episodes (who am I kidding, I’ve seen all 100!)  could prepare me for watching that!  If you are going through this surgery yourself and would like more info, here is a link to my Bum Knee  Pinterest board.

In case you’re like me and hate watching videos on the internet and would much rather read the info, I will explain the surgery in laymen’s terms.  The main problem in people with repeated patellar sublexations (kneecap dislocations) is that their Medial Patellofemoral Ligament has either snapped or has gotten extremely stretched out from the first (or subsequent) dislocations.  The MPFL helps keep the kneecap from slipping to the outside of the leg.  My MRI (oh Lord, that event calls for a whole separate blog post!) showed that my MPFL is still intact, but is severely stretched out from my four dislocations, and that I also have significant signs of wear and tear under/around my patella.  Most likely the ligament never fully snapped because my patella only remained “stuck” outside of its rightful place once, and by then the ligament was already very loose.

The reconstruction will entail my surgeon replacing my worn out ligament with one from a cadaver (yes, that freaks me out and puts so many more questions in my mind eg.:what if my donor was even more of a couch potato than I am?  What if my donor was a 100 year-old woman with arthritis?  Does this mean I will now be part zombie?)  He will drill through both my femur and my patella and then thread the “new” ligament through.  This will all be done arthroscopically, so I will only have three tiny incisions and one larger (about 2-3 inches) one.  The procedure will take around two hours, and I will be under general anesthesia (yes, this also freaks me out because I have NEVER been under anesthesia.)

Apparently this procedure has a much higher rate of success than the former-most-popular lateral release procedure.  As my previous post said, when I had my second injury my old surgeon told me that even if I had a lateral release there was still a pretty significant chance that I would continue to have sublexations.  Both of my surgeons have told me that this is not the case with the MPFL reconstruction.

After the surgery I will have to keep my knee straight for three weeks and be on crutches.  My surgeon says that I should be able to play any sports I want after about three months.  That sounds a bit too optimistic to me.  I would just like to be able to walk upstairs without waking the neighbors!  However, I must admit that a tiny part of me is daring to hope.  The thought of being able to be my old, athletic, active self again gives me butterflies (I know that’s soooo lame!)  I really had resigned myself to being pudgy and lethargic for the rest of my life, but now, just maybe, I don’t have to.


My Journey Through MPFL Reconstruction (Introduction)

Style icon Grace with Steve Kerr

There are very few resources for people having MFPL Reconstruction, so I decided to use my blog to share my story.  This is the first post in the series.


It may surprise some people to know that my life was once focused around sports–basketball, specifically.
10 years ago it would be hard to find me wearing something other than basketball shorts or with my hair any way but in a slicked-back ponytail.  Yes, my awkward stage was excruciatingly awkward. But I didn’t care, because my whole world revolved around basketball.  All along I knew I was never going to be a pro, but I attributed that to my height (or lack thereof).  Little did I know that my knees would be my real enemy.

Freshman year of high school (Spring, 2005):  I’m standing at my desk with all of my weight on my right leg.  A classmate barrels by me and shoves me, causing my right kneecap to dislocate (technically speaking kneecaps “sublex”, not “dislocate”).  Since this has never happened to me before, I am blindsided by the pain, but don’t know how to describe it to my teacher.  So I limp down to the nurse’s office and get a bag of ice.  This injury happened AFTER Freshman basketball season, so I rested it and iced it until I could play again.

Sophomore year (Fall, 2005):  After a summer full of club tournaments and grueling pre-season conditioning sessions, I’m looking forward to proving myself to the JV coach and becoming a starter.  It’s the day before tryouts begin and my teammates and I are on the track conditioning.  I’m doing laps when all of a sudden my kneecap sublexes again and I collapse.  Needless to say, I am devastated.  This time, my parents and I know that this is beyond ibuprofen and ice, so we visit an orthopaedic surgeon.  He tells us we have two choices: try 8 weeks of physical therapy or preform a lateral release procedure.  He shows us on the x-ray that my kneecaps are slightly tilted in a way that makes them more prone to sublexation.  Since I’m 15 and in otherwise good shape, we choose physical therapy.  It worked!  I was back running and jumping (with a gigantic brace) in about 8 weeks.  I was cured…or so I thought.

Spring, 2012:  Life is sweet.  Having graduated from the University of Arizona the previous December I am now working as a Realtor and waiting for my perfect boyfriend (now hubby, Jojo!)of two years to propose.  Did I mention that this perfect boyfriend is a marathoner?  I haven’t been much into sports since quitting baksetball after my Sophomore comeback (coach drama combined with continued knee pain and AP classes just did not mix).  However, I had continued to work out consistently and live a pretty active lifestyle.  Because of my trepidation about hurting my knee again I have been relying on strength training, Pilates, and the elliptical to stay in shape.  After so many years without a sublexation and being motivated by my super-fit boyfriend, I decide to take up running again.  I am SO excited.  I buy the fancy shoes, a Nike running watch, Kara Goucher’s book, and begin a training plan in order to run my first official 5k.   I feel so wonderful being able to share in Jojo’s passion for running.  He shows me some of his (shortest!) favorite trails and I manage to finish them!  I definitely do not get anywhere close to a runner’s high, but slowly but surely, I’m doing it!  One Sunday Jojo, my mom, and I decide to go for a run together.  It’s a perfect day and I am so proud of myself for going for a run instead of watching TV!  We get about a mile away from my house and BOOM!  My kneecap pops out to the side and this time, it stays there.  I collapse on the ground and scream when I see it.  The sight of it sticking out like that was so disturbing that I don’t even notice the pain at first.  Mom and Jojo are horrified.  Jojo comes and pops it back in as Mom calls my Dad to come pick us up (on the phone of a good Samaritan who pulled over to see if I was okay…because of course none of us had our phones!)

My beautiful immobilizer brace

I go back to my surgeon.  Same story.  I think more seriously about surgery but he says that the surgery does not have a fantastic success rate and that many people who have it end up suffering sublexations again.  I return to PT.  This time graduating from PT does not mean running and jumping, it means being able to climb the stairs and walk without crutches.  My heart is broken, and my days as an athlete (or even just an active person) are finished.

Fall, 2013:  I’m a couch potato.  I go to the gym from time to time, but walking around the equipment with tired legs scares me.  I’m scared of people bumping into me.  I’m scared of riding the stationary bike and twisting my knee the wrong way.  I’m scared of walking to my car after a workout.  I avoid walking over curbs in parking lots.  I avoid making anything besides 90 degree turns while walking.  When my dog wants to play, I stamp my feet and wave my arms because I can’t actually chase him.  My knee sounds like steps in gravel every time I straighten them.

My fanciest brace (for special occasions of course)

I’ve gained weight and started taking anti-anxiety medications.  My life is even better than it was before: I am married to the love of my life, we own our own home, we have an adorable dog, I even have a new car!  But I feel like I’m 100.  I have no energy, and even the slightest twinge in my knee terrifies me.  One day I am walking into the school where I am a substitute teacher.  I accidentally step off of the sidewalk and…you guessed it…my kneecap dislocated.  I am 23 years old, getting pushed in a wheelchair by my GRANDMOTHER.  That’s when I decided that this has got to stop.

On February 10th, 2014 I am having Medial Patellofemoral Ligament Reconstruction.  I am so excited for a new, active, healthy chapter in my life!