Cartilage Replacement Surgery – A Patient’s Success Story

cartilage repair
Marcus Hutchinson knows all too well about surgery and physical therapy – he has had 6 surgeries on his left knee. He has also been a physical therapist for 22 years. As a teenager, Marcus was diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans, also known as OCD, a joint condition in which a piece of cartilage, along with a layer of the bone beneath it, comes loose from the end of a bone due to trauma or lack of blood flow to this area. Osteochondritis dissecans is most commonly found in the knee and often occurs in young men.

By the time Marcus arrived at Emory Orthopaedics & Spine in Dr. Sam Labib’s clinic in 2006, his left knee had been operated on 4 different times. Dr. Labib examined Marcus and determined he had a massive osteochondral defect in his left knee that involved his entire lateral femoral condyle, a portion of the top bone of the knee joint.

Previous doctors had told Marcus that the only option he had left was total knee replacement. Dr. Labib did not recommend knee replacement because Marcus was too young to have this procedure. Typically, a joint replacement will only last about 15-20 years so if Marcus were to have the knee replaced in his 30’s, he would probably need to have another knee replacement by his 50s.-

Dr. Labib was able to offer Marcus a unique procedure called cartilage replacement surgery. Marcus had a massive fresh allograft implantation taken from a cadaver in February 2010 to treat his osteochondral defect.

There are several surgical techniques available to treat patients with OCD.

Below are three that Dr. Labib regularly performs.

• Microfracture Surgery – In microfracture surgery, small holes are drilled into the underlying bone, creating blood clots. As the blood clots heal, new repair cartilage or fibrocartilage forms.

• Autologus Osteochondral Plug Transfer – In this procedure, the patient’s own cartilage and bone are harvested from a low-stress area of the knee and implanted into the patient’s knee in the damaged area to fill the holes and defects with healthy cartilage and bone.

• Fresh Allograft Implantation – In this surgery, the cartilage and bone are taken from a fresh cadaver that has been donated for medical use. The donated tissue, also called an allograft, is thoroughly screened and matched to the patient defect to give it the best possible chance of successful healing. The surgeon prepares the patient’s knee by removing the damaged area. The allograft is then implanted and anchored to the surrounding bone.

Marcus’ surgery was performed at Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital. When asked about his experience he states, “I had such a positive experience at the hospital. Great care! Very attentive staff. Clean, professional and efficient.”

Marcus had one major goal following surgery and that was to walk and stand without pain. “I stand all day at work when seeing my patients for physical therapy. Before surgery with Dr. Labib, I had so much pain in my knee that it was affecting my job and day to day life. I feel so much more stable and pain-free now after having cartilage replacement surgery.” Marcus says he has a new perspective on what patients are experiencing after surgery and during physical therapy which has made him better at his job as a physical therapist. He is back to enjoying life with no pain and participating in low-impact activities such as swimming, cycling, and yoga.

About Dr. Sameh (Sam) A. Labib

Sam Labib, MD, is a sports medicine fellowship-trained surgeon and director of the foot and ankle service at Emory. Dr. Labib started practicing at Emory in 1999. He is an Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery.

Dr. Labib has a particular interest in problems and procedures of the knee, ankle, and foot. He is the head team physician for the athletic programs at Oglethorpe University, Spelman College, and Georgia Perimeter College. He is also an orthopaedic consultant to the Atlanta Falcons, Georgia Tech and Emory University.

He has lectured both nationally and internationally at many orthopedic meetings. His research has been published in several journals, including the JBJS, Arthroscopy, Foot and Ankle International and the American Journal of Orthopedics as well as numerous video presentations and book chapters. Dr. Labib is Board Certified in orthopedic surgery with additional subspecialty certification in Sports Medicine Surgery. For the past 5 years, Dr. Labib has been nominated by his peers as one of “America’s Top Doctors” as tracked by

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  • Tamara

    I have a subchondral defect and a couple of other knee problems. I am too young for knee replacement and am wondering about the cartilage allograft. How would I know if I qualify for this? Thank you.

    • Emory Orthopedics and Spine Center

      Although we can’t speak to your condition without seeing you in person, typically it depends on the size, depth and location of your defect. If you would like to schedule an appointment to evaluate further, please send us your clinical information and contact Chris Stampul at She can go over the steps in the process with you.

  • kneesurgerymd

    Thanks, really interesting post.

  • Lisa M.

    Hello, I hope you are well. I have a problem with my hip where I am “bone on bone” in the front portion. I am in pain but I do not want the hip replacement. Does Dr. Labib ever see people with hip problems? I like this thought of re-growing cartilage instead of the usual metal parts. I truly appreciate your time.


  • Leandra

    I am a young female in my [removed for patient privacy].

    My Orthopedic surgeon has recommended having cartilage replacement surgery done, to which I am very interested in the Autologus Osteochondral Plug Transfer procedure. What steps do I need to take at having this procedure done at your medical facilities and also any other information relating to this operation i.e. cost, rehabilitation time, etc.

    • Hi Leandra, and thanks for reaching out. While we cannot comment on your knee condition without seeing you in person, we have several knee experts specializing in cartilage repair. We would appreciate the opportunity to evaluate you in person. To make an appointment, please call 404-778-3350 to speak with a member of our Emory Sports Medicine team. Otherwise, you can fill out our online appointment request form and someone will follow up with you. To learn more about the specific techniques Emory Sports Medicine uses for repairing damaged cartilage, including Autologous Osteochondral Grafts, please visit our website. Thank you!