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15-year-old St. Louis athlete receives new ACL surgery, surpassing expectations

It's called the "BEAR" implant, which stands for Bridge Enhanced ACL restoration. Doctors said patients get muscle strength back faster.

ST. LOUIS — A first-of-its-kind surgery is helping repair one of the most common injuries among athletes. 

Mercy Clinic Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. David Irvine decided to try the new ACL surgery recently.

He said it could be a "game changer."

"In the initial studies, it looks like it's very comparable or slightly a little bit better than an ACL reconstruction as far as return to sports and that's kind of what we're after," Dr. Irvine said.

The new ACL surgery, known as the "BEAR" implant, is already surpassing expectations for one young, local athlete Alex Silies. 

"I just fell in love with the sport from a young age," Silies said.

For the past 12 years, Silies' life has revolved around one thing.

"It's soccer, soccer, soccer," Michelle Silies, Alex's mom, said.

While the humble 15-year-old won't brag on his skills, like any proud mom, Michelle will.

"He's awesome at it. He's been playing soccer since he was three years old for one of the big clubs here in St. Louis. He made varsity his freshman year at high school for Mehlville," she said.

But on April 1, 2023, midway through a club soccer game, Alex took a big fall.

"When I landed, my knee buckled inwards, and I just felt my knee shift and pop and I knew something was wrong right when I hit the ground," he said.

Michelle wasn't at the game but said she got a call from her husband about it.

"Alex, when he gets knocked down, he's usually right back up. This one was different," she said.

After doctor visits and X-rays, Alex got the news no athlete ever wants to hear, that he injured his ACL and would need surgery.

"I was getting into the elevator trying to go down to lunch and I saw my mom's text and I almost threw up. I was devastated," he said.

Devastation that quickly turned into hope, after meeting with Dr. Irvine, who wanted to try something new on the young soccer star.

"I've always been interested in repairing versus reconstructing, and this new procedure gives us that ability," he said.

According to Dr. Irvine, the "BEAR" implant allowed him to fix Alex's ligament without stealing tissue from somewhere else in his body.

"They get quicker muscle strength back and it's just less morbid because we're not taking it from somewhere," he said.

Not only was the 15-year-old the first surgical patient at the Mercy Center for Performance Medicine & Specialty Care, but he was also the first Mercy patient in the St. Louis region to receive this new procedure.

"We were scared, you know, how secure is that? It's been going wonderfully though," Michelle said.

So wonderfully, Alex said his recovery process is surpassing the studies.

"I'm four weeks ahead of schedule and I'm pretty sure it's because of this," he said.

Meaning the soccer star could be back on the field this fall.

"I'm ready. My high school season is starting up in August, and I just want to play with them again," Alex said.

"Now it's a possibility with this procedure and all the great care and the physical therapy going on here that he might be able to play this fall at high school and his club team is really anxious on getting him back as well, so we will keep our fingers crossed and it looks good," Michelle said.

To be a considered candidate for the new ACL surgery, the procedure has to happen within 50 days of the injury and enough ACL tissue must remain to attach to the new implant.

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