Senior year of high school is arguably one of the most exciting years of your life. It’s the year for new beginnings and celebrations—senior prom, graduation, figuring out where you’re going to college—for me, I had just spent my summer picking up rowing and I had really grown to love it. I couldn’t wait to start the season and start racing. When you picture your senior year, do you imagine yourself on crutches with a brace on your leg? Yeah, I didn’t either.
There was nothing smart about the way I tore my ACL. I often get asked questions like, “What on earth were you thinking?” Admittedly I wasn’t thinking at all, which might explain why I let my 6 foot 2, giant football playing friend from down the street sharply double-bounce me on my trampoline that August evening.
The most ironic part of this entire day was what my mom said to me minutes before my friend showed up at my house. “I’m getting rid of that thing,” she pointed to the trampoline, “you guys are too old for it now and it’s just dangerous.” My stubborn 17-year-old self told her we would use it “just one last time”—which technically was exactly what happened if I had to make an argument in my favor.
I can still remember the scene so vividly—my friend was in the midst of asking me if he could double bounce me and I was laughing much too hard to say no, or anything at all for that matter. With all of his might he slammed his legs down onto the trampoline and launched me higher than I had ever flown before. I felt weightless for a moment, but then the fear of landing overcame me. In just those few seconds that I was mid-air, dozens of thoughts jumped around my head: should I try and land in a seated position? No, I was afraid of whiplash. Should I land on my knees? I couldn’t even if I wanted to—I didn’t have enough time to swing my legs underneath me.
Suddenly I didn’t have any time left to think, and as I made contact with the trampoline my left leg went stiff—my femur dislocated, sliced my ACL and rolled around the socket to stretch out my MCL before finding its way back to its proper place. My body felt like it went into shock. My friend nudged me to get up, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying over the ringing in my ears. I had no feeling in my left leg. He continued to nudge me and clearly wasn’t comprehending what had just happened, so I did the only thing I could manage in that moment—I screamed as loud as I could. He got the point, and so did the neighbors.
That night was awful. My mom took one look at my knee, which had become so swollen it looked less like a knee and more like a softball on my leg, and turned white as a bed sheet. Almost robotically, she made a phone call to the emergency room just to ask what we should do. They wouldn’t be able to do much that night, so they suggested just making an appointment for an x-ray and MRI the following day.
I knew before the results of the MRI what I had done. I had trouble walking down the stairs—and by trouble I mean that after the swelling went down I forgot I was missing an ACL, would start to hop down the stairs like always and end up falling down the flight. I kept expecting to wake up and just be okay, but that never happened.
My parents and I were at a loss for words when the results came back from the MRI. It suddenly all became real—I would be spending my senior year on crutches and in physical therapy. I wouldn’t be rowing, and that nearly broke my heart. My mom sat down at the dining room table and googled, “best surgeons for rowers needing ACL surgery.” The first result talked about Dr. Jo Hannafin at Hospital for Special Surgery. My mom picked up the phone and called to make an appointment.
At the time, Dr. Jo Hannafin was on medical leave, so I was given an appointment with Dr. Beth Shubin Stein. I went into the city about a week later to meet her. I’ll never forget how nervous I felt sitting in the office before she walked in—I just stared at my knee and sat in silence with my parents. But Dr. Shubin Stein floated in so calmly with a polite smile on her face and almost immediately the mood in the room changed.
She spoke softly while she tested out my ACL on the table, nodding her head as I told her how I injured myself. She went over my MRI results with me and explained how I would definitely need surgery if I planned to stay active. The entire time she went over the surgery with me I was expecting to have a moment of complete anxiety, however that moment never came. She explained it with such ease that this ACL reconstruction seemed like a walk in the park.
The next several weeks I spent in PT to get stronger before my surgery. I got my new ACL on October 12, 2012. Unfortunately, after surgery, my knee was healing faster than I was able to bend it in PT so I had a lot of scar tissue build up. But even then Dr. Shubin Stein didn’t panic—she encouraged me to work a little harder to bend it a little further. Throughout the entire process, the staff at HSS supported me and comforted me when I started to panic most. By the time the spring rowing season came around, I was back on the ergometer and in a boat. My boat went the entire season undefeated.
After countless trips to the city and dozens of physical therapy sessions, I can confidently say that I am finally back in the game. I could never thank HSS the way I truly want to—they eased my worries when I felt unsteady and encouraged me when I felt defeated. They assured my parents that they would take great care of me and help me heal as quickly as possible. Almost three years post-op, I hope that as an intern for the hospital’s communication department I can help others who want to get back in their games choose Hospital for Special Surgery.