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Dr. Derrick Fluhme: On the Threshold of a Regenerative Era in Orthopaedic Surgery
By Nancy Kennedy

Dr. Derrick FluhmeThe millions of Americans who have osteoarthritis in their knees are well aware of the challenges involved in this chronic degenerative condition: the constant pain and stiffness; the struggle to manage daily activities; the limits on socialization imposed by decreased mobility; and the fatigue that accompanies all these difficulties. Medical science has no cure for osteoarthritis; thus, treatment consists of symptom management. Pain medication, steroid injections, physical therapy and assistive devices are all useful measures to manage the pain and disability of knee arthritis for as long as possible, usually with the anticipation of total joint replacement. Now, imagine a different scenario. Imagine that you have knee arthritis and your orthopaedic surgeon outlines the treatment options available to you. One sounds especially promising: stem cell injection therapy. This is a radically innovative, preventative treatment for moderate arthritis that enables the body to repair itself, augmenting the body's own propensity for healing with the remarkable regenerative power of bioengineered stem cells. Stem cell injections can potentially reduce and even eliminate knee pain and inflammation and prevent further degeneration, restoring the knee to full functionality, without surgery.

It sounds like science fiction. But it's not. It's here, it's happening now, and it's available to residents of Western Pennsylvania. Derrick Fluhme, M.D., a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon, has become the first in the area to offer this groundbreaking regenerative treatment for arthritic knees. Dr. Fluhme, who practices with South Hills Orthopaedic Surgery Associates, says that stem cell injections are safe and effective. "Stem cells possess the capacity to differentiate into various types of cells such as cartilage cells. When injected into injured tissue, they heal by stimulating organs to regenerate and grow living functional tissue. Stem cells can produce cells which are anti-inflammatory and loaded with growth factor for healing. They can slow down and stop the degenerative process. No surgery or incision is involved. For some patients, stem cell injections can repair the arthritic joint to such a degree that knee replacement can be delayed and perhaps even avoided altogether."

Stem cell injections, says Dr. Fluhme, are for patients who have significant but not severe knee arthritis. "This is for my patients with mild to moderate arthritis, who are not ready for knee replacement. It's for the 50-year old golfer whose knees are bothering him, but who is not at the point where he needs surgery. For that person, stem cell injections at this point may mean not needing a future knee replacement." It's also for those for whom traditional treatments have failed or for those who can't have knee replacement because they have co-morbid conditions. Dr. Fluhme uses a product called Arthrosurface Nanofactor, which is derived from placentas that are donated by healthy, extensively screened mothers who undergo elective C-sections.

Dr. Fluhme has been so impressed with the benefits of stem cells that he proposed the treatment to a special patient: his mother, Betsy Fluhme. The 64-year-old Washington's Landing resident loves the outdoors, golfing and playing with her grandchildren, so when she developed knee arthritis she worried about how it would affect her active lifestyle. "I had surgery for a torn meniscus ten years ago," she says. "I could feel the knee worsening, with pain and cracking. I had to go up or down the stairs slowly. Derrick suggested stem cell injections to me.

"I never even felt the needle. The next day, I woke up feeling like I had a brand new knee. I had no pain whatsoever, and I still don't. My knee is functioning perfectly; I'm playing golf again and I can go up and down the stairs without even thinking about it. It's amazing." Betsy Fluhme says that the stem cell injections have had a positive impact beyond the improvement in her knee. "I not only feel better, I look better. I used to have that worried expression that you have with chronic pain. Now that's gone and I feel great."

Anna Storrs, an interior designer, says that stem cell injections have erased her pain. A meniscus tear and osteoarthritis made it a challenge for her to get through her busy days. "My knees were swollen and sore; sometimes I had difficulty getting in and out of the car," she says. "Dr. Fluhme gave me the option of arthroscopic surgery or stem cell injections. He said I was a good candidate, and it sounded like it was worth a try. I trust Dr. Fluhme completely." Getting the injection was simple, convenient and quick, she says. "It was done in his office and felt like a cortisone injection," she recalls. "The next day, I felt better and by day three, I was able to work out and do lunges, steps and squats. It feels like a miracle. I feel so good that I'm planning a trip to Europe with my husband. It will involve a lot of walking and I'm confident that I will be fine."

Stem cell injection therapy, Dr. Fluhme emphasizes, is not a substitute for knee replacement surgery. "If you need a knee replacement, then you have to have one. Stem cells are not a substitute, but are a preventative treatment option that may delay or reduce your need for one."

Stem cell therapy, he says, represents a new, regenerative paradigm in orthopaedic surgery and in the treatment of arthritis. "Stem cells are being called the next Penicillin, revolutionizing the way we practice medicine. They aren't entirely new but they are new to orthopaedics, and it's a 180 degree turn for our specialty. Orthopaedic surgeons are a replacement culture and stem cells represent something completely different: a regenerative culture. I call this 'regenerative orthopaedics' and as a surgeon who is sports medicine-trained, I'm invested in joint preservation. It's exciting to offer my patients a safe, simple, non-surgical treatment that can help heal their knees and transform their lives."

To make an appointment with Dr. Fluhme, contact South Hills Orthopaedic Surgery Associates at (412) 283-0270. The office is located at 2000 Oxford Drive, Suite 211, near South Hills Village.

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