Jonathan’s meniscus transplant story

Whether he’s on a bike ride or just walking to class at Southeastern Community College each day, Jonathan Gavin appreciates the precious gift that allows him to do those things pain-free.

A multi-sport athlete, Jonathan, of Burlington, Iowa, had several knee surgeries throughout high school to repair a torn meniscus. Meniscus is flexible cartilage tissue that prevents the bones in the knee joint from rubbing against each other.

Damage to the meniscus is one of the most common types of knee injury. In many cases, a torn meniscus can be repaired. But Jonathan’s meniscus was so severely damaged that it could not be salvaged, and he was in constant pain that forced him to cut back on his activities. He needed a meniscus transplant.

University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics is the only facility in Iowa that offers meniscus transplant. Matthew J. Bollier, MD, orthopedic surgeon at UI Sports Medicine, specializes in the procedure.

“He was the perfect candidate for this procedure,” Bollier says. “Normal alignment of the joint, no cartilage damage or arthritis, stable ligaments, and a complete loss of his medial meniscus.”

Quality of life—for a lifetime

While the transplant would affect Jonathan’s ability to play certain types of sports, Jonathan’s mother, Katie Gavin, knew that her son’s future was what mattered most.

“His knee was at about a 40-year-old level of damage, but we wanted him to be able to be an active adult and enjoy life to the fullest,” Katie says. “I was at peace knowing that our options were really well laid out for us by Dr. Bollier.”

In 2016, Bollier performed the successful meniscus transplant, removing what remained of Jonathan’s old meniscus tissue and replacing it with new tissue.

“Dr. Bollier was fantastic,” Jonathan says. “He explained everything that was going to happen.”

Giving back

But as Jonathan returned to a pain-free life, he understood that the gift he had received went beyond the good fortune of having access to Bollier’s expertise. Jonathan knew that the new meniscus tissue in his knee came from a donor—someone who gave their tissue after death to make life better for someone else.

To show his appreciation, Jonathan spent early July 2017 on a 1,000-mile bike ride from Denver to Iowa City with Pedal for Life. Pedal for Life organizes long-distance bike rides with plenty of pre-planned stops to honor organ donors’ loved ones and to bring cheer to patients who are waiting for life-changing tissue donations like the one Jonathan received.

Pedal for Life was inspired by the work of Garrett’s Path, an organ-donation awareness foundation launched by the family of Garrett Brockway, a Burlington boy who died at age 10 and whose donated organs saved five lives and tissue and corneas improved the lives of 132 other people.

As friends of the Brockway family, the Gavins already had a special connection to the donor side of organ donation, so Jonathan knew that putting his restored knee to work for Pedal for Life would be a remarkable opportunity. He’s planning to ride again when Pedal for Life makes its next long-distance trip to spread the word and honor donors.

Carrying on Garrett’s legacy

Meanwhile, Katie Gavin has been able to watch her son, who went through so much pain at a young age, grow into a young man who has chosen to do something positive and productive that transcends his own experience.

“He’s taking on the bigger perspective of donation awareness, of carrying on Garrett’s legacy, of being an advocate of understanding,” Katie says. “I am immensely proud of him.”

Burlington, Iowa