By Lyn A.E. McCafferty

A freak playground accident — and a young boy’s expert treatment and follow-up care at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — led one grateful New Jersey family to make an extraordinary gift to power sports medicine research for generations to come.

Tracy and Frank Bisignano donated $5 million to CHOP to fund the Bisignano Family Distinguished Endowed Chair in Sports Medicine. This new chair is held by pediatric orthopaedic surgeon Theodore “Ted” Ganley, MD, Director of CHOP’s Sports Medicine and Performance Center, who successfully treated the Bisignano’s 11-year-old son, Henry, after his injury.

“The Bisignanos’ gift will help children now and it will help children in future generations,” Ganley says. “It will allow us to evaluate treatment successes — both operative and non-operative — across multiple sites, to discover new treatments and techniques to help patients, and to build our database of pediatric injuries and re-injuries to uncover any trends.”

The boy who inspired the gift

Eight-year-old Henry was racing a friend at recess when he fell hard on the blacktop. He broke his tibia (shin) bone just below his right knee, and tore his meniscus, the cartilage that acts as a cushion between the bones that meet at the knee. This uncommon type of injury in a growing child, called a tibial spine fracture, is similar to an ACL injury in an older patient and could severely limit Henry’s mobility for life if not properly repaired.

Frantic, the family looked for the best pediatric hospital and the best surgeon to fix their son’s specific injury. People the couple respected — including Howie Roseman, executive vice president and general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles — recommended Ganley and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Ganley is a nationally recognized pediatric sports medicine expert, and CHOP is ranked #1 in the nation for pediatric orthopaedics by U.S. News & World Report.

“All roads led to CHOP,” says Frank Bisignano. “We felt confident Henry would receive the best care in the world there — and he did.”

In May 2018, Ganley examined Henry, and the next day performed the delicate and complex surgery.

Afterward, Henry began intensive rehabilitation at CHOP to improve his strength, balance and gait. In a follow-up surgery in early 2019, Ganley removed some scar tissue from Henry’s knee to give the young athlete greater range of motion.

Today, the 11-year-old is an active sixth grader who plays on a competitive travel baseball team and is looking forward to resuming other sports when COVID-19 is less of a threat.

“We’ve been pleased with Henry’s recovery and are grateful to CHOP for their help at every stage of our son’s recovery,” Frank Bisignano says. “We’re supporting Dr. Ganley so he and his team can help other kids with sports injuries — now and in the future.”

Research breakthroughs on the horizon

The Bisignanos’ gift will help the CHOP team:

  • Explore whether surgery is the best option for specific conditions or injuries, and research non-surgical treatments that may help in certain circumstances
  • Investigate cutting-edge new treatments and surgical techniques
  • Advance injury- and disease-specific research into conditions that affect major joints in the body including the knee, shoulder, elbow and ankle

Researchers at CHOP and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania are developing a model to predict ACL injuries in young athletes, to better understand why they occur, and to determine who is most likely to sustain a substantial injury. “By better understanding why these injuries occur, we can work to try to prevent them in the future,” Ganley says.

And then there’s the cutting-edge field of genetics. Sports Medicine physicians are collaborating with CHOP’s Center for Applied Genomics to investigate genetic factors that may influence specific bone, tendon and ligament formation. Researchers have already discovered a gene that causes knee instability due to a missing ACL, and are investigating whether genetics plays a role in other conditions that plague young athletes.

“Research drives patient care at CHOP,” Ganley says. “To treat the most challenging pediatric sports conditions, we need to find ways to measure what’s working and what’s not.

“The Bisignanos’ fortitude and determination in making Henry better were impressive,” Ganley says. “I was fortunate to be able to help this family and now — because of their gift — our team can continue to improve treatments and outcomes for all children with sports injuries.”