A father saved his son’s fledging football career by giving him a tendon from his own hamstring in a groundbreaking surgery.
Andy Milbank didn’t hesitate to make the donation for teenager Matthew, despite the operation leaving him on crutches.
The young footballer was top goal scorer for Gillingham’s under-14s before a torn knee ligament put him out of play last year.
He needed the same operation as Paul Gascoigne, who famously tore his in the 1991 FA Cup Final while at Spurs.
But Matthew’s sporting future was more at risk because up to 30 percent of ACL – anterior cruciate ligament – repairs fail in the under-20s.
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The striker, now 15, was offered a lifeline – pioneering surgery using a much stronger tendon from a parent to create a graft instead of one of his own.
The success of the new procedure could benefit thousands of youngsters who would otherwise need repeat operations.
When doctors running the first UK trial proposed the idea of harvesting a tendon to repair Matthew’s knee, Andy, 55, whose own father was a semi-professional player, immediately stepped forward.
“Anything to help my son be able to play again,” said the airport worker from Dartford, Kent.
“If there was anything I could do, I wanted to do it; my own footballing days are well and truly behind me. Matthew was playing the best football of his career when he got injured.”
Matthew, whose two-year contract was renewed by Gillingham, said: “Both my mum and dad volunteered to donate when we were offered the opportunity to take part in the trial.
“The surgeon told us my dad’s hamstring would give me the best chance because he was taller and stronger – so in August the two of us were side by side in operating theatres at Tunbridge Wells Hospital, where the surgery was carried out.”
Knee surgeon Nick Bowman performed Matthew’s ligament repair after carrying out similar surgery while on fellowship in Australia.
He said: “Children’s tendons are so weak and skinny, their ligament repairs often re-rupture.
“When I interviewed with Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust on my return, I told them I was determined we should be the first in the UK to offer paediatric ACL repairs using transplanted adult tendons.
“A trial was mounted and Matthew was one of the first of 16 children to get a repair with a graft fashioned from the hamstring of one of their parents.”
The trial will continue until September next year and Mr Bowman said: “Although it is early days, we have had no failures.”