New therapy gave Ward's knee rapid relief

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It sounded long and involved and maybe even a little unpleasant, but for Steelers fans, it really didn't matter, because the medical procedure that wide receiver Hines Ward underwent may have helped him play in his team's Super Bowl victory against the Arizona Cardinals.

So what was that procedure briefly described by NBC sideline reporter Andrea Kremer just before kickoff Sunday?

It involved extracting blood from Ward's right knee -- the one in which he sustained a sprained ligament against Baltimore in the AFC championship game -- tinkering with the blood and then re-injecting it into the same knee.

"It is called ACP, or Autologous Conditioned Plasma," explained Dr. Neal ElAttrache, an associate and partner of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. He was not involved in Ward's treatment, but he has worked with the Dodgers and Lakers, among many other professional athletes.

"When you injure yourself, it promotes a cascade of events that eventually leads to healing. But, with ACP, you take some of your own blood out, centrifuge the blood into a much smaller and concentrated amount and take layers that have the platelets and reinject them into the injured area. You might take out 20 or 30 ccs, treat it, and then inject back a very nutrient-rich 3 or 4 ccs."

The procedure, which would have had to have been done on Ward by the Steelers' medical staff within 48 hours of the Baltimore game to have its greatest impact, also eliminates some of the patient's white blood cells, which cause inflammation to the injured area.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed that the procedure did not violate the league's drug policy. ElAttrache said he has done the procedure for a Major League Baseball pitcher and it did not violate that organization's drug policy, and the only clearance needed was one from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"This is the direction a lot of us have been going to speed up the healing process," ElAttrache said. "To use the products of our own bodies rather than steroids or growth hormones seems a better option. Many in the medical community have not used this yet, but I think it is something that is only going to become more common.

"Looking at a case like this, it gets national attention and people write about it in the newspaper and things because it was used for an athlete in the Super Bowl. But, I think it will educate people more and more on the potential use of such a treatment and the positive and quick impact that it can have because it was used on such a high-profile person such as Hines Ward."

ElAttrache, who is originally from Mount Pleasant and graduated from Pitt medical school, put a timeline on what he thought Ward's absence could have been without the ACP.

"From what I have seen, on average, an injury such as the one Hines Ward had would have taken anywhere from three to six weeks to feel good again," ElAttrache said. "But, there is an outside chance this kind of injury could have stayed painful and limited his performance for weeks or months. I have seen Grade 1 and Grade 2 sprains limit performance for months and force athletes to not be able to participate for an extended period of time."

All that said, ElAttrache has a firm opinion on the success of this specific procedure in this specific case.

"I think it was genius for [Steelers physician Dr. Jim] Bradley to think about doing this," ElAttrache said. "This was the perfect use for ACP. There was no potential downside to using it on Hines Ward and it probably helped him a great deal.

"Now, there is no way to prove that Hines Ward wouldn't have gotten better without Bradley having this done to him, but I think we can all come to the conclusion, without a doubt, that it helped Hines Ward be able to participate in the Super Bowl."

Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette contributed to this report. Colin Dunlap can be reached at cdunlap@post-gazette or 412-263-1459.


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