For 34-year-old Daniel Kerr, sport is life. The talented Perth-born Australian rules footballer, best known for playing 220 games for the West Coast Eagles between 2001 and 2013, is no stranger to pain for gain.
At the peak of his career, the midfielder was widely known as one of the toughest players in the AFL – but even he wasn’t immune to the kind of injuries that not only slow players down, but stop them in their tracks.
At the age of 28, at a time when he was one of the two highest payed players at the club, Kerr experienced what was described by medical experts as a ‘career ending’ injury. It happened mid stride, full sprint and the prognosis was grim.
“I had a complete hamstring rupture – all three tendons completely torn off the bone,” he recalls.
“We had a full team of doctors and physios working on me, investing in my recovery. I was in full-time rehabilitation and my medical team were working full-time too, to come up with new ideas for a therapy that would work. But they had no blueprint. We looked around the world and couldn’t find any professional athletes who’d had all three hamstrings ripped off, at a high intensity level, and made it back to play professional sport.”
The first challenge was to repair the physical damage, and fast. Kerr had a titanium pin inserted to reattach the hamstring, but it quickly spelled the beginning of a whole new kind of pain.
“The pin reattached the hamstring, but I still had a huge amount of pain – a severe arthritic type pain in my hip. The hip and the tendon continued to feel like it was torn every time I ran. So we opened the wound up again to make sure that it had healed. It hadn’t healed, so we had to start all over again,” he said.
He started rehab again, but the pain in his hip returned. Now at the 11-month mark into his recovery and with every second counting at the peak of his career, he had no choice but to go under the knife again. The pin had to go.
“When we took the pin out, the pain in my hip went away, but my tendon continued to feel weak and I still had a feeling of a torn ligament or torn muscle. The message that my hamstring was sending to my brain was that it was torn, so I couldn’t resume training.”
Surprisingly, it was a local Perth invention – with origins at the University of Western Australia – that delivered the solution he’d been searching for. Perth-based biotechnology company, Orthocell, has been working away for over seven years, supported by evidence-based clinical trials, to develop an innovative treatment for acute tendon injuries. For Kerr, it was just the answer.
“After we tried a number of different treatments, we were so lucky to have stumbled across Orthocell’s technology,” he said.
Desperate for improvement and flying somewhat blind, Kerr embraced Orthocell’s cell therapy for tendon repair – Autologous Tenocyte Implantation (Ortho-ATI®).
“They offered to have my cells harvested and re-injected – I didn’t really look much into it, but my doctors recommended it, so I followed their advice.”
This innovative therapy includes extracting and harvesting the patient’s own healthy tendon cells, growing them in a TGA-licensed medical facility in Perth, and then injecting the cells back into the site of the damaged tendon approximately four to five weeks later. The therapy has undergone extensive evidence-based pre-clinical and clinical trials too and available for patients in Australia, the US and Europe.
For Kerr, it was the fix he’d been waiting for.
“It allowed me to do a lot more strength work and targeted rehabilitation for the leg, which included more exercises to strengthen the tendon and take the pain away,” he said.
“It was the only thing that actually worked. Within two months I was back playing AFL. It’s fully healed.”
Kerr went on to play a further three AFL seasons and even now, most recently, he played 15 exhibition matches last year and is coaching amateurs too.
“My life is dedicated to sport. We run sports programs for kids in the desert; we run sports programs here in the city; my girls are into soccer and yoga; and my sister plays for the Matildas. Our lives revolve around sport – when it’s winter, it’s footy season, when it’s summer, it’s soccer season.”
A father of three and mad footy fan, happier than ever to be back to full stride and able to fully embrace life.
See Channel 7 News feature story HERE.
For more information about Orthocell’s Ortho-ATI® treatment and other regenerative medicine therapies, visit orthocell.com.au