Samantha Rovillos

Orthopedic Surgery: Good as New

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJ) Security Officer Samantha Rovillos always wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement and public safety, but multiple knee injuries nearly robbed her of that dream.

A former softball player at Keyport High School, Ms. Rovillos experienced chronic soreness and weakness in her knee after playing competitive sports for many years. After high school, she earned an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice from Berkeley College. Following graduation, she was working as a security officer for a private company when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her knee after a fall at home. For active individuals like Ms. Rovillos, the ACL is important because it is critical for stabilizing the knee when turning or planting the leg.

The South River resident had surgery to reconstruct the ACL at another hospital, but the knee did not heal properly. The chronic pain and weakness from the initial injury forced her to withdraw from the New Jersey State Corrections Officer Training Academy before she could complete the program.

“I was heartbroken,” Ms. Rovillos said. “After I left the academy, I had to work two jobs before I was able to find a full-time security job at RWJ.”

The stubborn knee pain persisted, but Ms. Rovillos was able to effectively perform her work at RWJ until she re-injured the same knee in 2014 following another fall at home.

“My knee never really healed after the first injury,” Ms. Rovillos explained. “So, the weakness probably led to both tears. I was in constant pain. Whether I was standing, the weather was humid or too cold, no matter what time of year, I always had that issue.”

After three years of dealing with chronic, debilitating pain, Ms. Rovillos had enough. She contacted Charles Gatt, MD, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine who also serves as Chairman and Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and RWJ.

Dr. Gatt is highly experienced in ACL reconstruction and repair, routinely performing almost 100 such surgeries each year. An MRI revealed that Ms. Rovillos first ACL graft had failed.

“It was a complete tear; the original surgery had failed,” Dr. Gatt explained.

Dr. Gatt recommended that Ms. Rovillos have Autograft ACL reconstruction surgery, because she is young and wants to return to an active lifestyle.

“Autograft surgery is preferable for young, active people,” Dr. Gatt notes. “Medical literature shows that the re-rupture rate is much lower if you use the patient’s own tissue in young and active patients.”

During Autograft ACL reconstruction, two tunnels are drilled into the bones of the knee. A small portion of the patient’s patella tendon is removed and fastened between the two holes, replacing the damaged ACL. The procedure lasts approximately 90 minutes.

“The patella tendon is considered the gold standard,” Dr. Gatt explains. “The allograft failure rate is 30 percent higher among young people. I expect her to return to a normal, active lifestyle. I told her that I have performed ACL reconstructions for college football players who have gone on to play in the NFL, so I expect her to be able to become a law enforcement officer. We have been performing the same technique for over 20 years and it has been highly successful.”

An aggressive physical therapy regimen is part of the patient’s post-operative recovery plan.

“Patients can start physical therapy in two days and will be on the exercise bike in 10 days, with exercises such as squats and leg presses at about two to three weeks following surgery,” Dr. Gatt says. “Aggressive rehabilitation contributes to faster recovery and better outcomes.”

“This recovery has been a lot different and a lot easier this time (compared to the first surgery),” Rovillos notes. “I am looking forward to running again, hitting the gym and hopefully I can apply for another law enforcement job.”