Gretchen Girgenti

Lifelong Athlete Gets Back to Action After Major Knee Surgery

Gretchen Girgenti

A competitive athlete since she was a kid, Gretchen Girgenti could do it all – swimming, soccer, cycling and even competing in triathlons. She powered through sports-related knee injuries throughout the years, until one day, at age 34, the young, fit personal trainer from Toms River could barely walk without her knee giving out.

“I was at the beach with my husband and stepdaughter and my right knee began to bother me. When I stepped off the boardwalk onto the sand, I heard a ‘pop’ and felt it at the same time. I told my husband, ‘my knee just completely blew apart,’” said Gretchen, who knew immediately where to go for treatment – Erik Larsen, DO, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and Chairman of the Department of Orthopedics at Community Medical Center.

Dr. Larsen, who had previously performed Gretchen’s shoulder surgery to address an unrelated injury caused by swimming and weight training, ordered an MRI to determine the cause of her pain, then an OATS procedure to correct it.

“Gretchen’s years of activity led to a chronic problem and damage to her ACL and, in particular, she experienced persistent instability that couldn’t be regained,” said Dr. Larsen. “Gretchen knocked off a piece of cartilage on the tip of her femur bone. I used bone and cartilage from another part of her knee that doesn’t bear as much weight – a procedure known as osteoarticular autotologous transfer system, or OATS – to repair the knee and joints.”

While performing the OATS procedure, Dr. Larsen noticed a partial tear in Gretchen’s arterial cruciate ligament (ACL),

one of four major ligaments that comprise the knee. He recommended physical therapy as the first course of treatment, but when Gretchen continued experiencing pain without making much progress, she went back to Dr. Larsen to discuss the next steps.

“Dr. Larsen gave me options – an ACL brace with continued physical therapy or surgery. He didn’t push the surgery, but because I’ve been an athlete for so long, I wanted the surgery right away so I could get back to my active lifestyle,” said Gretchen.

“Often, people who want to maintain a high level of activity require ACL total reconstruction. Although there are more conservative options, surgery made sense so Gretchen could get back to doing the activities she enjoys,” said Dr. Larsen, who performed Gretchen’s second surgery using a cadaver ACL in January – just three months after her first surgery.

“Dr. Larsen was positive and reassuring. He told me to give it time, but that his goal was to get back to my normal activities,” she said.