Presence St. Mary's Hospital
P.E. Teacher Back To Full Strength after Knee Cartilage Transplant Procedure

Oak Orthopedics and Presence St. Mary’s Hospital offer advanced procedures

(Kankakee, IL) – Leigh Reiniche woke up on her 35th birthday to an unwanted surprise. Her knee was swollen, doubled in size. Barely able to bend it and in a significant amount of pain, she could not understand why. She had no dramatic injury; she didn’t walk on it funny, or notice anything wrong at all, even the day before.

“I could barely walk without pain,” says Reiniche. “Any pressure on it at all was agony. Even walks from the car into work were pure torture.”

The next two weeks, she tried to rectify the matter on her own, icing the area and taking ibuprofen to help with the pain, to no avail.

As a PE teacher at Grant Park Middle and High School, being active with her students, as well as running, biking, and staying active with her family, is important to her. Reiniche has been athletic her whole life. She played volleyball from grade school through college, never sustaining any sort of knee injury. She asked herself, why now?

In January 2018, she went to the Oak Orthopedics to try to find the answer.

She and surgeon Dr. Tom Antkowiak discussed her history before he performed an exam and took x-rays of her knee. Her knee looked healthy overall, but clearly there was an underlying problem. After obtaining an MRI, Dr. Antkowiak discovered she had a defect in a part of her knee called the lateral femoral condyle. The defect left no protective cartilage in this area of her knee and was causing Reiniche’s pain and dysfunction.

“The cartilage is critically important as it provides a cushion for us to walk on. When it is injured or worn out, the joint becomes painful and dysfunctional,” says Dr. Antkowiak. “Cartilage injuries are quite common in our active patients. They can occur in any age group but are most likely to occur in young athletes. Most often cartilage injuries are associated with a twisting injury to the knee. They can, however, occur spontaneously and without warning. This was seemingly the case with Leigh.”

When cartilage is worn throughout a joint, replacement of the joint may become necessary. In Reiniche’s case, her cartilage injury was isolated to a particular location, which gave Dr. Antkowiak the opportunity to attempt a cartilage transplantation surgery.

After a thorough workup at Oak Orthopedics, Reinche was scheduled for a minimally invasive cartilage transplant procedure called an osteochondral allograft transplantation, in which Dr. Antkowiak would remove the damaged area of cartilage from her knee and replace it with a healthy, full thickness cartilage layer from a donor.  Unlike other tissue transplants like liver, kidney, or lung, donor cartilage tissue does not cause a rejection response in the knee. No special medications need to be taken by the patient and the cartilage eventually becomes their own.

This minimally-invasive surgery performed at Presence St. Mary’s Hospital was done using a small incision in the front of Leigh’s knee and took approximately sixty minutes. Hours after the procedure, Leigh was home. And three days later she was back to work on light duty. A special interest in minimally invasive techniques allows Dr. Antkowiak to perform surgery with as little disruption to the patient’s anatomy as possible with small incisions and gentle handling of the soft tissues and muscles. According to Dr Antkowiak, this allows patients to recover quickly and return to normal life as soon as possible.

Leigh’s road to recovery started with physical therapy to help restore full strength to her knee. Within 3 months, and with Dr. Antkowiak’s approval, she was able to start using her school’s fitness center for her conditioning. Shortly after that, she was back to running and biking on her own.

“It’s a complete 180! My recovery is going great and my knee is nearing 100 percent,” says Reiniche. “Within minutes of meeting Dr. Antkowiak, I knew he was the right guy to perform my procedure. From day one, he has been very thorough and calming, and has been with me every step of the way.”

Dr. Antkowiak is part of Oak Orthopedics’ team of fellowship trained, orthopedic surgeons with offices in Bradley, Frankfort, and Watseka, offering treatment options for pain management and a variety of orthopedic conditions.

“Cartilage transplantation is just one example of the advanced, cutting edge procedures available at OAK Orthopedics,” says Dr. Antkowiak. “Working with St. Mary’s allows us the most advanced technology to help treat our patients and get back to the things they love to do as quickly and painless as possible.”



Leigh Reiniche
Leigh Reiniche teaching PE class at the start of the school year on August 30 after having a successful knee cartilage transplant procedure in January at Presence St. Mary’s Hospital.

Dr Antkowiak

Oak Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Tom Antkowiak


About Presence St. Mary’s Hospital

Presence St. Mary’s Hospital is a 182-bed acute care facility with a Level II Emergency/Trauma Center serving Kankakee and the surrounding counties. Presence St. Mary’s Hospital has received numerous awards for their quality of care and has been recognized nationally for their achievements in patient safety and satisfaction.

About OAK Orthopedics

OAK Orthopedics has been serving the Midwest since 1945. With three office locations and an outpatient surgical care facility, (OAK Surgical Institute, OSI) their directive is to continually look for ways to better serve their patients with state-of-the-art orthopedic care and diagnostic imaging.

The specialty-trained doctors of OAK Orthopedics provide treatment for orthopedic injuries and conditions effecting the ankle, back, elbow, foot, hand, hip, knee, neck, shoulder, spine, and wrist as well as joint replacement & revision, orthopedic trauma, pain management, pediatric orthopedics, physical medicine & rehabilitation, podiatry, and sports medicine.

Patients can contact Oak Orthopedics directly by calling (815) 928-8050 or visiting



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