Giving back to the community was the impetus for Jeff Woodruff learning to become a marathon runner, and it seems it will also be the reason he continues to run, he hopes, for the rest of his life. Woodruff, also known as Woody, 50, recently underwent groundbreaking surgery to repair a damaged knee, and this procedure will almost certainly change lives for athletes going forward.
Years ago, living in Albuquerque, NM, he started participating in charitable 5K events with philanthropy in mind, and he found it to be quite therapeutic. When he moved to Colorado Springs in 2010, trail running became a part of his life, and he has been hooked ever since. “The nature aspect of running on Colorado trails cannot be duplicated,” Woodruff says. “And there is therapy involved in getting out there with your colleagues. We all know each other. We high-five each other when we pass, and that just doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
Woodruff entered every marathon he could from Memorial Day to Labor Day and fed his insatiable appetite for the sport with trail runs. But the constant impact on his joints eventually caused damage, and he was diagnosed with chondromalacia patellae or “runner’s knee” in 2020.
A visit to Colorado Springs Orthopaedic Group resulted in the devastating news that a knee replacement would end his days of running, at the capacity he desired, for life. Woodruff could not grasp that concept and kept digging for options even while he was enduring chronic pain. Upon the recommendation of his doctors, he met with Dr. Jamie L. Friedman, an orthopaedic sports medicine surgeon specializing in complex knee and shoulder injuries and cartilage restoration, who was familiar with a new surgery that provides a biological resurfacing of the damaged patella. Called an osteochondral allograft transplantation, a piece of tissue with both bone and cartilage is taken from a deceased donor to replace damaged cartilage in the joint. It is a newer technology, and Friedman had never performed the surgery.
The decision was made to scope the knee and clean it up so Woodruff could get through marathon season in 2021 and then undergo the new surgery at some point after that. Dr. Friedman practiced the surgery at a lab in Denver to ready herself for the live event.
When a donor patella surfaced that was a good match on November 16, 2021, Dr. Friedman made the call to Woodruff who had one hour to decide if he wanted to move forward with the surgery. “There are certain specifications the donor patella has to meet, including being a perfect match in length, width, and depth,” Dr. Friedman says. “It has to be pristine and healthy, and matches can take 8 to 12 weeks.”
Dr. Friedman says she was excited to be the first surgeon in the state of Colorado to perform the surgery, but it was scary at the same time. “My patients have trust in me, so I invested a lot of time into this and took my time performing the surgery,” she says. “The operating room is a place for execution, not surprise, and my job was to ensure Woody could continue to be active.”
Now he is on the mend, allowing his bones to heal for eight weeks before starting physical therapy, and he is bullish on the outlook ahead. “I don’t necessarily want to run the Boston Marathon, but I do want to be an inspiration—the old guy in the race that people stop and say, ‘I want to be like you,’” he says. “And I’m also demonstrating to my daughters that they can become anything they want and overcome pain and adversity if they put their mind to it.”
Dr. Friedman says that, whereas this option is for an athlete who is younger and doesn’t want to give up their sport, the technology is creating second chances for many athletes, especially runners. “This is huge for runners who tend to be attracted to the sport because it is more than a physical activity; it’s also mental and emotional,” she says. “This really opens the doors for athletes in Colorado who are motivated to continue in their sport. We will definitely get them miles back on their tires.”
Woodruff has a personal goal to hike up and run down all 58 14ers in Colorado, but the philanthropic side of him is all about sharing this surgery as an option for others. “We’re opening the door for the large community of runners in Colorado who can now have this option as opposed to knee replacement,” he says. “By writing this book, we can offer a solution so athletes can maintain their level of activity, and that’s a big deal to me.”