Give it Your Best Shot

Regenerative medicine relieves crippling pain, restores degenerated joints.

When Helen Green was in her 20s, she enjoyed a thriving career as a nutrition researcher and teacher. She took a break to raise her children, but when she decided to reenter the workforce she faced a challenging dilemma.

“I learned that my two college degrees needed to be updated,” Helen recounts. “I had to either earn a PhD in nutrition or get recertified as a teacher. Considering my previous education, I wondered what it would take to become a nurse.

“I learned that it would only take me two years because of all the science courses I had taken in the past, so I ultimately became a critical care nurse and worked at various teaching hospitals. I absolutely loved my job.”

Without back and knee pain, Helen can comfortably walk on her mini-trampoline.

Without back and knee pain, Helen can comfortably walk on her mini-trampoline.

Helen retired in 2005. Now 76, she reflects on some of her favorite things about being a critical care nurse.

“In critical care, I tended to only one or two patients a shift. I made such a huge difference for them because they were really sick,” she muses. “And in a teaching hospital, I was part of a team. I not only took care of the patients, but also the families, and I contributed to the education of medical professionals. I made a difference on so many levels.”

As a nurse, Helen was on her feet 12 hours a day, three days a week for 17 years. As a result, she developed degenerative arthritis in her knees and low back that caused pain with movement.

“My right knee was bone-on-bone, so I underwent a total knee replacement,” Helen recounts. “I responded wonderfully to the surgery and experienced a great recovery. After that, my right knee was in great shape, but the surgeon warned me that my left knee was getting bad.

“There was a lot of discomfort in my left knee, especially when I walked or worked in my garden. The pain was even worse in my low back. I couldn’t vacuum or sweep with a broom for more than three or four minutes before I had to stop. The pain was severe, an eight or nine on a scale of one to 10. It was really bad.”

To ease her knee and back pain, Helen routinely visited a chiropractor, but the chiropractic adjustments weren’t providing lasting relief. Then she learned about another approach to easing pain that piqued her interest.

“Just as I was thinking that I needed to find something else, I received a copy of Florida Health Care News in the mail,” Helen remembers. “In it there was an article about Dr. Johnson and a new treatment he provides called regenerative medicine. I did a little more research on the treatment and decided to give Dr. Johnson a try.”

Dr. Jeffrey P. Johnson is the principal provider at Johnson Medical Center, a comprehensive medical practice in Venice. During Helen’s initial visit at the office, the providers ordered a series of x-rays to assist in evaluating her arthritic knee and lower back. They determined that she could benefit from their regenerative medicine protocol.

“Regenerative medicine works by harnessing natural healing factors in the body to help cushion joints and relieve pain,” Dr. Johnson describes. “The healing factors also help restore function to the body’s damaged tissues, which include degenerated cartilage in joints such as the knee and the facet joints of the spine.

“Helen’s left knee and lumbar facet joints were deteriorated significantly from arthritis and causing her intense pain, which affected her ability to perform normal activities of daily living. She was an excellent candidate for our regenerative medicine protocol.”

Helen was impressed by the doctor’s proactive approach to patient care.  

“Dr. Johnson was very hands-on during the evaluation process,” she reports. “He was right there in the x-ray room directing the tech. He’d say, Let’s turn her a little more, and Let’s take this view as well. When he was done, I signed up for the regenerative medicine protocol for my knee and low back.”

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. Green’s case, our primary aim was to improve the cushioning effect of the cartilage in her knee and facet joints,” 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.

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

Regenerative medicine injections are less invasive than surgery, and patients recover much faster from them, 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, RN, MSN, APRN, NP-C, 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.”

Floor to Air to Water 

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 flatwork. 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.

“This treatment saved me from having surgery.” – Jane

“This treatment saved me from having surgery.” – Jane

“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. 

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, but 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 proved invaluable when Jane’s husband suffered a series of grand mal seizures. But out of fear that she might be exposed to the coronavirus and could possibly bring it home to her ailing husband, Jane opted not to seek work with an ambulance service or hospital.

“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 an 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 has sprained multiple times. Most of her pain was 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 golfed 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. My neighbor was a patient at Johnson Medical Center and recommended I visit them.”

A Good Candidate 

“Dr. Johnson and his nurse practitioner Danielle performed an extensive exam on me,” Jane reports. “They tested my strength and did 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, so I didn’t even want to consider surgery. My mother had two knees replaced; I know what she went through, and I didn’t want that.”  

Much to Jane’s delight, she was presented with an alternative to surgery: regenerative medicine. Dr. Johnson told her that regenerative medicine’s healing factors would help increase the cushion in her knee joints and relieve her pain.

“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,” Dr. Johnson observes. “She was a good candidate for regenerative medicine.”

“No Pain At All”

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

“I felt relief right away,” she raves. “My pain went down to a three or four and 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.”

In July, Helen received the treatment on her left knee and lower back during the same visit. She was impressed by the comprehensive rehabilitation aspect of the protocol.

“The full program is more than the PRP and Wharton jelly injections,” Helen elaborates. “My treatments include trigger point injections, adjustments and then either a laser treatment or physical therapy. My knee and back improved tremendously through the application of all of these therapies.” 

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

“Right now, I don’t have any pain in my knees at all,” Jane 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.”

Helen says the difference in her pain since receiving the injections is “phenomenal.” 

“The pain when I vacuum and sweep is now about a two or three instead of an eight or nine,” Helen points out. “If I stand and cook all day or if I’m on my feet all day, I’ll notice some discomfort, but I’m OK. I don’t need any medication.”

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.” 

The doctor and his staff made an excellent impression on Helen as well.

“Dr. Johnson is adorable,” Helen effuses. “He’s very interested in nutrition so we have many discussions about health, pesticides and sprouting. I look forward to our sessions because we talk about many different science topics. 

“Danielle is very knowledgeable about trigger point injections. She’s made significant progress in relaxing muscles in my back that have been tight for years. The rest of the staff at Johnson Medical Center is caring and amazing. They’re all great.”

© FHCN article by Patti DiPanfilo. Photos by Jordan Pysz. mkb
Print This Article