Buffalo, N.Y. (WBKW release) -- Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Demetrius Bell was looking forward to the team's first game of the 2009 regular season, having spent his entire rookie season the year before on the inactive roster.
Bell had earned the left tackle spot for the opener against the New England Patriots, his first NFL career start. The Bills lost 25-24, but No. 77 went on to start in five more games that fall.
It was during his sixth game -- the Bills' 41-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans in November -- that Bell suffered a knee injury that took him out of the game and off the playing field for nearly a year.
Unable to improve with treatment over the next month, Bell underwent cartilage transplant surgery on his right knee, performed by John Marzo, MD, the Bills' medical director who joined the team as an orthopedic surgeon in 1991. At 6'5" and over 300 pounds, the 26-year-old Northwestern State graduate faced a long rehabilitation period that lasted through the spring and summer of 2010, up until the start of the preseason, when, he recalled, "I just barely made it back to camp."
His work paid off: Bell returned to the Bills lineup during the second preseason game, and then started all 16 games during the regular season.
Bell credits Marzo -- a University of Buffalo associate professor of orthopaedics -- with saving his career as a professional football player.
"I feel great, I have recovered well and every day, I thank him," said Bell, the starting left tackle for the Bills heading into the regular season.
Bell said he and other Bills players hold Marzo, his fellow team doctors and the team's athletic trainers in the highest regard.
"They are some of the best in the business," Bell said. "They do a tremendous job diagnosing the players who have been injured. They are always helping us out, visiting the training facility regularly."
Two other members of the Buffalo Bills organization join Bell in his admiration for Marzo and his leadership of sports medicine physicians for the Bills and at UB: owner Ralph Wilson Jr. and his wife, Mary Wilson.
Through the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation, the Wilsons have given $1 million to honor the Bills team physicians in the UB Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, where they teach and train five orthopaedic residents and two sports medicine fellows per year.
Marzo said he and the other 24 members of the department are "extremely grateful" to the Wilsons for the gift, which will enable them to fund several priorities, including:
* Buying an arthroscopy simulator and other equipment for the arthroscopy lab.
* Hiring a sports medicine clinical research coordinator to oversee major research studies.
* Supporting the Buffalo Bills Sports Medicine Symposium, which brings visiting professors to the university twice per academic year for lectures and workshops.
"This generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. Wilson means the difference between a good program and an exceptional one for our sports medicine residents and fellows here at UB," Marzo said. "I speak for the other team physicians and the entire orthopaedics and sports medicine department when I say that this donation is invaluable to our efforts."
The Wilsons gift means that Marzo and his Buffalo Bills and UB faculty colleagues can continue a prospective clinical study of the utility of chondroplasty in the knee, as well as carry out future studies in the areas of concussion and biomechanics.
For athletes like Demetrius Bell, who has resumed his role as the starting left tackle, that is good news.
"These UB doctors are so important to all athletes, on a daily basis," Bell said. "Thanks to Dr. Marzo, I am recovered again and feeling strong. The sky's the limit."