The Joint Chief

Doctor’s regenerative medicine protocol relieves severe knee, lumbar pain.

Education seemed a natural choice of profession for Jim Woods, who had a strong desire to serve others. It was also a family business of sorts. Jim’s mother was a teacher and his aunt was a guidance counselor. Jim devoted more than 40 years to the discipline.

Jim Woods

His career started simply enough.

“I’m from a little town northwest of Columbus, Ohio, called Plain City,” Jim shares. “After I earned my undergraduate degree, I got married. My wife and I moved to California for a couple of years, and I taught junior high school there.”

Over time, Jim became more interested in the organizational aspect of education. He returned to school and in 1972 earned a doctorate in higher education administration and community psychology from Vanderbilt University. Jim began working in education administration. Ultimately, he was tapped to lead two institutions in Florida.

“In 1999, I became chief executive officer of the Venice campus of what was then Manatee Community College. It’s now the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota,” Jim reveals. “I oversaw the campus and worked to recruit new students. I retired from there in 2005.

“Before I went to MCC, I was an administrator at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa. I served as dean of instruction at one of the campuses. At one time, I headed up all of the facilities.”

Of all the positions Jim held during his career, he especially enjoyed his last two posts. He enjoyed working with people who have a common goal, and he strongly believes community colleges serve an important purpose.

“Community colleges serve students that are not quite ready for senior college. They give them an opportunity to mature and learn study skills that they need to succeed,” Jim asserts. “They offer many training programs to prepare students to go to college or to jobs. They help a large population coming out of high school move forward with their lives.”

Jim, 80, recently experienced some physical ailments that kept him from moving forward with his life. To alleviate those issues, he sought relief from Dr. Jeffrey P. Johnson, the principal provider at Johnson Medical Center, a comprehensive medical practice in Venice.

Dr. Johnson specializes in a protocol for back and neck pain called Sedative Stretching, an expanded form of a therapy called Manipulation Under Anesthesia.

“Dr. Johnson and I are in the Rotary Club together, and that’s how I got to know him,” Jim relates. “I first went to him years ago because I had neck problems and underwent Sedative Stretching. That worked so well that when I started having back problems last summer, Dr. Johnson is the man I turned to.”

Jim doesn’t recall sustaining an injury that might have instigated the back pain, but he was eventually diagnosed with arthritis in the lower spine’s facet joints, which connect the vertebrae together. The pain was intense and interfered with his favorite activities.

“It was a typical lower back issue, a problem at the L5-S1 junction,” Jim describes. “Dr. Johnson told me that’s where 90 percent of back problems occur. The pain was at times sharp and at times achy.”

The lower back is made up of five lumbar vertebrae, labeled with an “L” and numbered top to bottom. S1 is the first vertebra of the triangle-shaped sacrum, located between the hip bones. L5-S1 identifies the lumbosacral joint at the waist.

“On a scale of one to 10, the pain was typically an eight or nine, and it was debilitating,” Jim laments. “It made it difficult to bend, sit or do anything. It kept me from playing golf and riding my bike, which I like to do. It also hurt when I was sitting in the car trying to drive.”

After traditional treatment failed to bring Jim significant relief, Dr. Johnson suggested a new treatment he offers called regenerative medicine.

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

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

Cushioning Effect

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.

“My golf game has improved considerably since I received the treatment because I have no pain in my back at all.” – Jim

“In Jim’s case, our primary aim was to improve the cushioning effect of the cartilage in his 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 in Johnson Medical Center’s regenerative medicine protocol.

“First, we draw a small vial of the patient’s blood,” Dr. Johnson explains. “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. 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, which is the fourth and final injection in the protocol,” Dr. Johnson discloses. “Wharton jelly is the most effective tissue we use to promote healing.”

The injections are less invasive than surgery, and patients recover much faster, Dr. Johnson asserts. 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 maintains. “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 vouches. “She has developed expertise in using ultrasound to get the PRP and Wharton jelly exactly where they need to be for the treatment to be the most effective. It is a very precise technique, and Danielle does it well.”

After hearing Dr. Johnson’s explanation and doing some research, Jim agreed to give the treatment a try. He did so largely in an effort to avoid surgery.

“Dr. Johnson explained the process step-by-step; he was very thorough, and I thought, I’d rather do this than be cut open at my age,” he says. “I’m glad I did.”

Though it took a few weeks for him to notice, the regenerative medicine injections alleviated Jim’s back pain and allowed him to return to his active lifestyle.

“The improvement was gradual, but within a couple weeks, my back felt much better,” Jim reports. “I’m back to golfing, and my golf game has improved considerably since I received the treatment because I have no pain in my back at all. I’m back riding my bike again, and driving is no problem either.

“I’m also doing some physical therapy because when you have a procedure like this, it’s important that you follow up with physical therapy.”

Second Opinion

Twenty years ago, New Jersey native Beverly Widas decided to retire to spend more time with her youngest child before he started middle school. That decision ended a nearly 30-year career as an advertising and marketing specialist for Cigna, the multimillion-dollar insurance and financial services company.

Beverly Widas

“I was a marketing major in college and my dad was in advertising, so it was in my blood,” says Beverly, 70. “I knew I wanted to do something in that field and worked my way from the bottom up.

“At Cigna, I worked with a group of people and we did all the marketing for the company’s lines of business. I did their advertising campaigns and their events, which were sometimes held all over the world. The events I planned included golf outings and tennis outings, including US Opens. I just loved the satisfaction of getting the projects completed. It was very exhilarating, like a high. And it was so much fun.”

As part of her role as an event planner, Beverly got to meet many celebrities that were invited to attend events. One stood out to her.

“I really enjoyed meeting former professional golfer Johnny Miller,” Beverly reveals. “He was very gracious and couldn’t have been nicer. I wasn’t a golfer at that time, but he told me how his career became so successful. He was a very sweet man.”

About eight years ago, Beverly and her husband downsized their home in New Jersey and relocated to Florida. They spend about 90 percent of their time in the Sunshine State but travel north on occasion to visit their five children and nine grandchildren.

Beverly and her husband are quite active and exercise regularly. A couple of years ago, aggravating knee pain forced Beverly to scale back on her activities.

“The pain was in my right knee, and it became very swollen,” she describes. “I wasn’t sure if the problem was from playing tennis or golf because both activities kind of hurt my knees, but it was intense. It was one of those constant, aching pains.

“The only time my knee didn’t hurt was when I was sitting, so I had to stop playing tennis because the pain was like a nine on a scale of one to 10. It was that way at night, too, and even just walking around, it was probably a six or seven.”

An MRI revealed that she had a frayed meniscus, the crescent-shaped cartilage that provides cushioning between the shinbone (tibia) and thighbone (femur). The result of the deteriorated cartilage was bone-on-bone arthritis in her knee.

Seeking relief, Beverly visited an orthopedic physician in Sarasota, who treated her with cortisone injections into her knee. The medication provided relief for about one week, then the pain returned. Beverly followed up with hyaluronic acid injections.

“I received six hyaluronic acid injections in my knee, and I got about 30 percent relief,” she reports. “It didn’t last, however. As time went on, I could feel the pain coming back 100 percent. The providers said they could redo the injections in a year, but I didn’t feel that treatment was a successful route.”

At that point, Beverly turned to Dr. Johnson for a second opinion.

“The cartilage in Beverly’s right knee was nearly gone from arthritis and injury, but there was sufficient joint space left to allow the beneficial effects of the regenerative medicine protocol,” Dr. Johnson notes. “She was a good candidate.”

“100 Percent Pain-Free”

“Dr. Johnson told me he’s had several patients who’ve achieved success with regenerative medicine,” Beverly recalls. “I’m a big proponent of replacing and regenerating tissue rather than treating a problem with medicine or surgery, and I wanted to avoid surgery. I decided to give his regenerative medicine protocol a go.”

“I just can’t get over the difference the regenerative medicine injections have made. It’s wonderful.” – Beverly

What amazed Beverly most about Johnson Medical Center’s protocol is its simplicity. She was even more astonished by the results, which she described as excellent.

“The protocol was such an easy process,” she enthuses. “Danielle, the nurse practitioner, administers the injections. I received three PRP injections over a three-week period and then received the Wharton jelly. I felt a difference immediately.

“After the first PRP treatment, my pain level went down instantly. After each injection, it got better and better. Now I’m 100 percent pain-free, and I play golf and tennis three times a week each. I just can’t get over the difference the regenerative medicine injections made. It’s wonderful. I’m in absolute shock!”

Beverly has kinds words for Dr. Johnson and his staff as well.

“Dr. Johnson is awesome, He’s the best,” she raves. “He is the nicest man, and I love his whole approach to patient care. He says, I don’t want to keep treating you. I want to fix you, and then I want you to get out of here. Most other doctors want to sign you up for long programs. He doesn’t do that. He’s conscientious and knowledgeable. He’s a good man.”

Jim has equally high praise for the providers at Johnson Medical Center.

“Danielle is very professional and wise, and she cares about her business,” he exudes. “She did a wonderful job. We established a great relationship. I enjoyed talking with her. And Dr. Johnson is one of my favorite people.

“He’s a great professional and takes his job very seriously. He has a really busy practice because of that. And he has a lot of happy employees, which tells you something about the kind of person he is.”

© FHCN article by Patti DiPanfilo. Photos by Jordan Pysz. mkb


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