Injured teenage footballer given dad’s hamstring in pioneering knee reconstruction

WATCH: ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw reports on the surgical trial helping injured young athletes

An injured teenage footballer has had pioneering knee reconstruction surgery using a hamstring tendon donated by his father.

15-year-old Matthew Milbank, from Dartford, ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while playing an away game in March 2022.

“It’s probably the worst injury a footballer can have,” recalled Matthew. “They said straight away that it was not looking good because the knee puffed up really bad. Then we went to get an MRI done at the hospital a week later and they told us it was an ACL rupture.”

Matthew was accepted onto a Kent-wide surgical trial using parent donors to make the repair, which is hoped will reduce cases of further injury and improve rehabilitation.

Matthew Milbank is one of 13 patients to have the surgery since the trial began in Kent.

The research study, led by clinicians at Tunbridge Wells Hospital, is the first of its kind in the UK. The method prevents under-18s having to have their own hamstring tendon removed to make the repair.

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon Nick Bowman said: “We have parallel theatres next door to each other and we simply harvest the hamstring tendons off mum or dad, we put them into a sterile pot, they’re transferred to the theatre next door where the young person is asleep and we transplant them straight into the child.”

Matthew’s donor hamstring came from his father, Andy. The family are one of only 13 to have successfully had the surgery since the trial began.

The study is due to run until September 2024, at which point the results will be evaluated to decide whether the procedure should be adopted more widely by the NHS.

Surgeons prepare a donated tendon for transplant to a child patient at Tunbridge Wells Hospital. Credit: MTW NHS Trust

Andy Milbank, who donated his hamstring tendon for the operation, said: “As a parent, it's one less complication for your child to recover from. He’s had major knee surgery but he hasn’t had to worry about the hamstring [removal]. So, it’s nice to be able to give him that.”

Matthew Milbank hopes to be able to play competitive games with his Gillingham FC Academy teammates in three months’ time.

The medical team involved in the study at the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust have spent years getting the correct approvals to carry out the surgery.

Orthopaedic Physiotherapist Helen Samuel said: “It takes such a long time to set-up – the research world is a slow process. But to finally open a study that looks like it’s going to be really beneficial to our patients, and might change the pathway for patients throughout the whole of the NHS, has been a great experience.”

According to the NHS website, ACL injuries are one of the most common types of knee injuries and can be caused during sports such as skiing, tennis, squash, football and rugby.

The standard procedure to repair a damaged ACL involves replacing it with a tendon from another area of the leg, such as the hamstring.