November 5, 2008

My Right Knee Thanks You

There are so many reasons to celebrate President-Elect Barack Obama’s victory last night: what it means for upcoming appointments to the Supreme Court, the significance to our ability to interact with the rest of the world in positive ways, exiting gracefully from Iraq and bringing home our troops, the implication that the best (not just any) person can win regardless of race or gender, the warm fuzzy feeling of the country coming together in a lovely shade of blue. Yes, all of it. All of it. It’s so exciting.

And then there’s my knee.

My right knee, specifically.

When I saw the knee specialist last spring, he reconfirmed that I have a growing hole about the size of a quarter in the cartilage underneath my right kneecap. When I put pressure on the knee, bone rubs on bone. It hurts. At the ripe old age of 46, I don’t hike or backpack, play tennis, run, or do anything that causes impact to my right knee. Instead, I get in the pool for my own water aerobics routine, ride a recumbent bike at the gym, and do lots of stretching. More than you wanted to know, but there you have it.

I asked the knee guy if I’m a good candidate for knee replacement surgery. Or maybe a partial replacement. Not really, he told me. For this particular problem, doing nothing is about as effective as undergoing invasive surgery. I told him I felt a little helpless, given the lack of options.

The knee guy leaned in. “Your best bet? A new administration.”


Research scientists have successfully manipulated stem cells in non-human animal models to re-grow cartilage after trauma. Whether the process will work in degenerative disease is still an open question. And whether it works in humans is a matter of electing a presidential administration open to regulated stem cell research. Might take three or four years of trial and error, but, he said, there’s an excellent chance that an injection of engineered stem cells would patch the cartilage hole.

Along with all those other people out there hoping to get fixed — those harboring identifiable genetic mutations predisposing them to disease, those hobbled or stilled from injury or deterioration — I’m nursing a bad case of hope today. Maybe the knee guy is right. Maybe with a new administration, there’s a chance for a fix.

My right knee offers thanks all who voted Democratic yesterday. It would bend deeply in gratitude if it could. But it can’t. And that’s the point.