Posted by: Terri Johnston Fraracci | April 26, 2016

Nurse walks again thanks to cartilage donation: tissue donation – the unsung hero

April is donate life month. We talk a lot about organ donation; a life enhancing, life saving gift. But there is an unsung hero called tissue donation. The following story highlights what an amazing, life changing gift tissue donation is:

Kirsten Kent is a nurse at Shriner’s Hospital in Chicago who has struggled with a debilitating knee condition for years. That’s until she received the miracle of cartilage donation.

Kirsten’s story in her own words:         

I grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago with my parents, two brothers, and one sister. I have five nephews and one niece. I became interested in the nursing profession when I had multiple encounters with nurses taking care of me. I was frequently hospitalized for my asthma, while growing up, and through those experiences it caused me to want to be able to care for others & make a difference.

I work at Shriner’s Hospital For Children as a charge nurse & absolutely love working with the children! I love spending time outdoors & staying active.

My favorite outdoor activities are: hiking, biking and skiing. I’m very active in my church and love to serve the Lord. I went with a group in my church to work with Samaritan’s Purse to help rebuild homes affected by the tornado in Joplin, Missouri a few years ago. That was such a memorable trip! My hobbies are: scrapbooking, needlepoint, playing guitar, piano, and the flute.

In 1994, I fell and injured my right knee on wet grass while playing soccer one night with the youth group. I had a torn medial ligament that needed surgery to repair and also a release of the lateral ligament to correct my knee alignment. I recovered well after months of therapy and was back to full activity, including running 1.5 miles a few times a week. I experienced occasional knee pain, while running, over the next 16 years until it became so severe that I had to stop running in the spring of 2010.

I then returned to my orthopedic doctor (Dr. Scott Price) who had done my prior knee surgery. He told me that my knee cap was misaligned (off track) causing my cartilage to wear down and that’s why I had such severe pain. The MRI showed that I had grade 3 Chondromalacia (almost bone on bone) between my knee cap & top of my femur bone. I was told I had to stop running & most likely would need surgery if physical therapy didn’t improve my symptoms. Unfortunately, my pain did not improve despite therapy so I had surgery to re-align my knee cap. I was told that I was not a candidate for a knee replacement due to my young age (31).

I had several months of therapy after surgery & my recovery was acceptable. I was able to do most things, but would still experience some pain depending on the day. The hope was that this repair would tide me over until I was old enough to have a knee replacement.

Yet five years later, in January, my knee pain returned. I visited my orthopedic doc again who sent me for an MRI. The MRI showed my Chondromalacia had worsened to a grade 4 (bone on bone) and we didn’t have many options left. I was still too young for a knee replacement, but even if I had a knee replacement my doctor felt that it may not be successful at decreasing my pain & I would then be stuck with future replacements for the rest of my life.

So he sent me to physical therapy & gave me Orthovisc (gel-like fluid to cushion knee joint) injections. The first injection only worked for a week and further injections did nothing for my pain; therapy helped minimally. My doctor decided to refer me to a cartilage restoration specialist (Dr. Brian Cole) in Chicago. I was told in June after having a knee scope, to clean debris out of my knee & to survey the cartilage damage, that I was a good candidate for an Osteochondral Allograft transplant to my knee cap and femur. Due to the nature of the surgery and the need for two fresh/healthy bone & cartilage grafts though, I waited for several months before I could have the surgery (on 11/17/15).

Finally, I got the call that two bone grafts were available. They were obtained from a tissue donor- a 13yr old child who passed away.

My severe knee pain prevented me from doing many simple things, such as: walking up/down the stairs, walking any distances, standing on my feet for long periods, bending over to get pans out of the cupboard, cooking, cleaning, and getting in/out of a chair. I couldn’t go grocery shopping unless my grocery list was long enough (10-15 items) to make the trip worth the pain I would experience. So my mom would frequently pick up groceries & run simple errands for me.

At work, it would take me a long time to walk from the parking lot to my desk. I often would ‘barter’ with co-workers to get basic tasks done (ie: you run my pt’s labwork to lab & I’ll page the doc to get your orders changed) since I couldn’t walk the unit or walk throughout the hospital efficiently without severe pain. When I would get home after work & therapy, all I could manage to do was get a quick bite of food & then sit on the couch to elevate & ice my knee.  I was not able to work out on the elliptical at the gym for many months & that was one of the things that I missed the most.

I often prayed to the Lord for strength, hope & joy while I waited for the surgery so I wouldn’t fall into depression. My dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor last spring in the midst of this. It was one of the most difficult times in my life. I was unable to help my mom care for my dad until after I recovered from surgery. That was hard for me to accept being that I’m a nurse and that’s what we do- care for people!

I can’t fully explain how grateful I am to have had the transplant. My life was forever changed when I had the surgery. I feel like I have a new lease on life now that my pain is completely gone when doing most daily tasks! I’ve not been pain-free since early 2010!

I thank God every day for this miracle & for this gift of life! I’m still working in therapy to improve my strength & function (walking up/down stairs), but my doctor says I should eventually be able to do anything & everything. I’m able to walk like a normal person now, instead of hobbling. I don’t have to think about walking, at all, worried that my knee will all of a sudden experience sharp pains and/or give out. I can go out to the store for a few items & not worry about how far I have to walk or if I can carry the items back to my car & into my house. I’m able to work out on the elliptical again. I can keep up with the busy pace at work, help co-workers with lifting/transporting patients, & can walk anywhere in the hospital- in record time! I can help my mom care for my dad now, which has lifted a heavy burden for her.

Many co-workers & friends have told me that I had such a pained look on my face whenever I would walk, prior to my surgery. They say my face glows now whenever I walk. They also said it pained them to even see me walk & hobble along.

I look forward to being able to go hiking & biking this summer, and possibly skiing this coming winter. I also look forward to being able to serve again with Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Recovery Team, something I couldn’t even think about a year ago.

I’m fully back to life doing what I wasn’t able to do for so long. I just returned from a family vacation with my parents and sister’s family. I was able to take walks on the beach in the sand without having knee pain.


Kirsten’s transplant surgeon, Brian J. Cole, MD, MBA, is a Professor in the Department of Orthopedics with a conjoint appointment in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, Chairman of Surgery at Rush Oak Park Hospital, head of the world’s most active Cartilage Research and Restoration Center specializing in alternatives to joint replacement for arthritis, and Team physician for the Chicago Bulls, Chicago White Sox and DePaul University.

Dr. Cole discusses medical decision-making and treating patients in the video below:


Please see more powerful recipient and donor stories here.

Read about Ironman triathlete, Gregg Szilagyi’s cartilage replacement surgery, also performed by Dr. Cole here.

April is Donate Life Month. Don’t forget that tissue donation is every bit as important as organ donation. You have the opportunity to donate quality of life and/or life just by signing up to be a donor.

If you haven’t signed up yet, now would be a very good time.











  1. […] Read her story here. […]


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