Matt Smith has spent his 20s in pain.

Smith’s leg was crushed two years ago during a work place accident.

“I ended up getting into a workplace accident with a 2,200 lb weight falling on my leg,” Smith said.

“They thought my knee was just dislocated but it ended up being way worse… my knee was totally destroyed.”

Smith was taken to the University of Alberta hospital to undergo surgery.

Doctors were able to save the 22-year-old’s leg and by using donor tendons, three of the four major ligaments in Smith’s knee were rebuilt.

But a joint had collapsed and the ligaments were becoming loose again, so in order to help Smith walk – without feeling pain – Edmonton surgeons tried something they had never done before.

Smith is the first person in Edmonton to undergo a shin bone, live cartilage and meniscus transplant.

“They took bone from somebody else and put it in my knee. It’s pretty amazing what they can do these days,” Smith said.

The donor shin bone, cartilage and meniscus were obtained from a tissue bank in Calgary and University of Alberta Hospital orthopedic surgeon Dr. Nadr Jomha performed the groundbreaking procedure on Smith.

“We had to take a chance and make the decision to do a fresh, bulk bone and cartilage graft with meniscus,” Jomha said.

“Once we had made our cuts, then we took the donor bone and made the same cuts on the donor bone and transplanted it with the meniscus attached.”

Jomha says only a little bit of the bone was used in the transplant.

“So that his body can recognize that and start replacing that donor bone with his own bone,” Jomha explained.

More donors needed

Doctors relied on the Calgary tissue bank because Edmonton’s doesn’t store fresh cartilage.

In fact, tissue specialist Candice Bohonis says Edmonton’s bone and tendon donors barely meet demand.

“We actually just don’t have the donor numbers for it,” Bohonis said.

She says Edmonton receives between 30 to 40 bone and tendon donors each year and that number lags behind what is actually needed.

“For the population who needs it and having surgeries, it’s just not enough,” Bohonis said.

“In order to keep up with the demand of tissue we'd probably be looking at least 300 donors a year, so that's a very different scenario of what we have right now… almost one a day would be preferable.”

Bohonis says hopes more awareness surrounding the lack of tissue and bone donation will encourage Albertans to sign their donor cards.

“I think people don’t want to have that uncomfortable conversation but you’re saving your family a lot of question and grief when you do pass away and they know what your wishes are instead of not knowing what to do and what you’d like to do,” she said.

Bone and tendon donations are typically used for orthopedic surgeries such as joint and back surgeries.

Smith is grateful that bone, cartilage and meniscus were available for his surgery.

He says the leg injury changed his life.

“When I think about it I cringe,” he said.

“Not being able to go out with my friends, really, not playing sports, not really being able to go walk around really.”

The former soccer player likely won’t be able to play again.

His career will also likely change.

“Now I was told I have all these work restrictions, can't lift over 20 lbs, can't be on my feet for more than half the day,” Smith said. “It’s tough.”

But the first-of-its kind procedure means Smith now has a chance to be pain-free, regain mobility, and maybe one day run again.

“I’m hopeful just to be able to get back to some level of physical activity whether it’s jogging or just getting on a pedal bike,” Smith said.

Shin bone, live cartilage and meniscus procedures have also been performed in Calgary and Toronto.

With files from Carmen Leibel