As a full-time emergency medicine technician and a volunteer firefighter in the Branson area, Ryan Wood, 25, springs into action on a moment’s notice to save lives. Since he was a kid, he has wanted to work as a first-responder, and he followed his dream by leaving his hometown of Columbia to earn a degree in fire science at the College of the Ozarks.
But when arthritis caused severe cartilage deterioration in his left ankle and made it difficult to even walk, he faced the prospect of giving up on his career just as he was getting started. Because of his age and desire to remain extremely active, Wood didn’t consider ankle fusion or total ankle replacement procedures that could limit his mobility and level of function.
There was another potential solution, though.
“BioJoint was an option that would potentially let me go back to doing what I love by helping people,” Wood said.
MU Health Care’s Mizzou BioJoint® Center offers biological solutions to ankle, knee, hip and shoulder problems. Surgeons use donated cartilage and bone to restore joints — a procedure known as an osteochondral allograft transplantation.
MU Health Care orthopaedic surgeon Brett Crist, MD, performed the procedure in January 2019. Crist transplanted a custom-cut graft of bone and cartilage that had been maintained in the Missouri Osteochondral Preservation System (MOPS®), which extends the storage life and cell viability of donated tissue.
Then came the tough part for Wood. He had to take it easy and patiently wait for the graft to fully take hold. The rehab process takes at least a year and sometimes longer, but it is crucial for the long-term success of the procedure.
“I had to leave my dream job of being a firefighter and working on the ambulance to have the surgery,” Wood said. “The physical therapy was hard, getting the muscles to learn how to do everything again, but the hardest part was the mental side of, ‘Will I be able to get back and help others? Will I be able to be a firefighter?’ As I did more physical therapy, blood flow restriction therapy and dry needling, my strength built back up and the confidence came back.”
Ryan worked hard and complied with the rigorous rehab program that his Mizzou BioJoint Center physical therapists guided him through. He was cleared to return to his EMT job 16 months after surgery and got the OK to resume firefighting three months after that. Wood no longer has pain in the ankle.
“I’m really happy,” he said. “We’re pretty busy at the fire department down here. We’ve had a few very large structure fires, and I’ve been able to pull the hose line and use the hose and break stuff down. It’s physical work, and my ankle has held up.”