Alternative To Surgery

Regenerative medicine relieves crippling pain, restores degenerated knees.

Jane DeClercq and her husband have owned and operated a successful concrete business for more than 40 years. Jane serves as office manager for the company, which services North Port, Venice and other cities in Sarasota County.

“My husband is a licensed masonry contractor,” Jane discloses. “He can do anything structural, but mostly he does flat work. We lay a lot of patios, driveways and sidewalks. Many people are putting in metal buildings, and we lay the slabs for those. We’re not set up for house slabs at this time, but we plan to do those in the future.

“When I met my husband, he was already involved with concrete. By the time he was 24, he had his own business, so he’s been on his own since he was young.”

Jane was born in Venice and lived for a while in the Grove City area of Charlotte County. She attended Epiphany Catholic School in Venice and Lemon Bay High in Englewood before graduating from Charlotte High in Punta Gorda.

Jane has returned to playing pickleball without pain.

Jane has returned to playing pickleball without pain.

She attended Manatee Junior College (now known as State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota) for 2½ years and studied to become a flight attendant.

“Then I decided I didn’t want to do that, yet I did earn an associate degree in general education,” Jane recounts. “Recently, I went to Sarasota County Technical Institute and became an EMT.”

Being a certified emergency medical technician came in handy when Jane’s husband suffered a series of grand mal seizures. Consequently, Jane determined not to seek work with an ambulance service or hospital, where she might be exposed to the coronavirus and bring it home to her ailing husband.

“I looked for different career options, and a lifeguard position became available,” Jane relates. “I thought, I like to work outside, I like to swim, and the experience I would bring to the job could help save lives. I decided to go for it, and I’ve been a lifeguard at the aquatic center since February 2021.”

Unfortunately, the long hours of standing while protecting swimmers exacerbated a preexisting pain in Jane’s knees, especially her left knee, which she had sprained multiple times. Most of her pain is a result of the pounding her knees took during 19 years of Jazzercise, where the joints were consistently twisted and turned. 

“My knees ached terribly,” Jane describes. “The pain was sharp and stabbing; it was a 10-plus on a scale of one to 10. It hurt when I played pickleball and golf because those activities involved twisting my knees. I usually have a high tolerance for pain, but it became so bad that I couldn’t take it anymore. And it was getting worse.

“I wondered if treatment with a Class IV laser could help take the pain away. My neighbor was a patient at Johnson Medical Center and he recommended I visit them.”

Restorative Recommendation 

“Dr. Jeffrey Johnson and his nurse practitioner Danielle (Sabatini) performed an extensive exam on me,” Jane reports. “They tested my strength and took x-rays. They discovered that the cartilage was severely compromised in both of my knees. They told me my left knee was one year away from needing a total joint replacement.

“I wasn’t happy with that news. I’m only 59 years old. I’m very healthy and have always been a very active, sports-oriented person. I don’t even take Tylenol® for headaches, which I rarely get. I didn’t even want to consider surgery. My mother had two knees replaced, and I know what she went through. I didn’t want that.”  

Much to Jane’s delight, she was presented with an alternative to surgery. It’s a new treatment for pain and disability called regenerative medicine, and it works by harnessing natural healing factors in the body to help cushion joints and relieve pain.

“The healing factors also help restore function to the body’s damaged tissues,” Dr. Johnson reveals. Those tissues include degenerated cartilage in joints such as the knee. “The cartilage in Jane’s knees was nearly gone from arthritis and injury, but there was sufficient joint space left to allow the beneficial effects of the treatment.”

True Joint Healing 

The objective of regenerative medicine is to place renewing substances into damaged tissue to stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself. It works especially well on degenerated or injured joints.

“In Ms. DeClercq’s case, our primary aim was to improve the cushioning effect of the cartilage in her knees,” Dr. Johnson observes. “Secondary benefits include the supplementary healing effects the renewing substances have on the surrounding muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves. The result is decreased pain and increased function.” 

There are a number of steps involved with this regenerative medicine protocol:

“First, we draw a small vial of the patient’s blood, spin it down in a centrifuge and use the platelet layers to create platelet rich plasma, or PRP,” the doctor divulges. “PRP contains healing and growth factors that help regenerative cells rebuild tissue in the damaged joint.”

“After the PRP, we inject another material called Wharton jelly, which contains more of the vibrant substances that promote the body’s healing ability.”

Wharton jelly is the protective tissue that surrounds arteries and veins of the umbilical cord. A vital component of fetus development, Wharton jelly is obtained from women who donate their babies’ umbilical cords following healthy births. Wharton jelly contains a high concentration of healing and growth factors, which help to cushion arthritic or injured joints.

The regenerative medicine protocol at Johnson Medical Center begins with three weekly PRP injections. 

“The PRP gets the joint ready for the Wharton jelly injection, which is the fourth and final injection that is part of our protocol,” Dr. Johnson explains. “Wharton jelly is the most effective tissue we use to promote healing.”

Injections are less invasive than surgery, and patients recover much faster, says Dr. Johnson. In addition, there is a very low risk for complications, such as bleeding and infection, which can occur with joint replacement and other surgeries. 

“Regenerative medicine provides an option for patients with conditions that a year ago I would just refer for surgery,” the doctor contends. “It’s been a terrific addition to our practice, where we also use physical therapy, chiropractic and other modalities to assist with the process of rehabilitating damaged joints. The goal is for the treatment to be a long term restorative event, not just a short-term fix.

“Best of all, it works! We’re seeing tremendous results with our regenerative medicine protocol. Within weeks of receiving treatment, patients are experiencing terrific relief from joint pain. In a period of months, we’re seeing an actual increase in the joint space and true healing of the joint. You don’t see that level of healing with joint replacement or other surgery.”

At Johnson Medical Center, regenerative medicine injections are administered by Nurse practitioner Danielle Sabatini under ultrasound guidance, which ensures the injections are appropriately placed at the site of the degeneration and/or injury.

“Danielle has traveled across the country to receive the best training in regenerative medicine techniques,” Dr. Johnson assures. “She has developed expertise in using ultrasound to get the PRP and Wharton jelly exactly where it needs to be for the treatment to be the most effective. It is a very precise technique and Danielle does it well.”

“No Pain At All”

Jane underwent Johnson Medical Center’s regenerative medicine protocol on both knees, receiving her first PRP shot on July 16, 2021 and the Wharton jelly injection on August 6. Her pain began to subside after that first PRP injection.

“I felt pain relief right away,” she raves. “After that first PRP injection, my pain went down to a three or four, sometimes a two, compared to a 10-plus. I wore knee braces and did the exercises they taught me as well. I did everything they recommended for the treatment to be successful.”

As far as Jane is concerned, Johnson Medical Center’s regenerative medicine treatment was highly successful.

“Right now, I don’t have any pain in my knees at all,” she enthuses. “With my lifeguard job, I’m required to swim 500 yards a week. Last week, I swam 1,000 yards because I felt so good. My knees ached a little the next day, which is expected because that’s a lot of yards. Still, I can feel my knees getting stronger every day.”

Jane was recently given the go-ahead to play pickleball again and reports that she’s doing that and many other activities pain-free. 

“This treatment saved me from having surgery,” she raves. “It’s allowed me to continue my lifeguard job and my active lifestyle. I can play pickleball, kayak and ride my bicycle without pain.”

These results have Jane grinning. She’s just as happy with the providers that treated her. 

“Dr. Johnson is a super guy, very down to earth and smart,” Jane reflects. “And his staff is excellent. I totally love and get along with everybody. Danielle is just great. We’ve developed a really good rapport. 

“Johnson Medical Center is a full wellness practice. It’s an awesome place, the best doctor’s office I’ve been to in my life.” 

© FHCN article by Patti DiPanfilo. Photos by Jordan Pysz. js
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    • Johnson Medical Center

      Dr. Jeffery P. Johnson has practiced in Venice, Florida since 1986. His practice is focused on treating patients with many conditions, including those that are not responding to conventional treatments such as physical therapy, chiro... Read More

    • Jeffrey P. Johnson, DC

      Dr. Jeffrey P. Johnson has been in private practice since 1986. At Johnson Medical Center, Venice’s premier, fully integrated medical clinic, Dr. Johnson and his team can treat every member of the family. The practice specializes in dia... Read More