Not only do ACL injuries impact the athlete involved, but there is also a mental impact on their families who go through the experience with them. As a mother, it is tough to watch your child recover from such a serious injury, and see them sidelined due to injury - I'm sure many of you in the XCLevation community will be able to relate in some way.
The following stories are about the ACL experiences of two young boys, Issiah (age 10), and Cameron (age 9), told from the perspective of their "super moms".
Issiah Evans is not your ordinary 5th grader - at the young age of 10, he tore his ACL and battled through the lengthy recovery. Passionate about football and basketball, Issiah was motivated to get back onto the playing field. His determination and hard work paid off, as he made an extraordinary comeback.
Since Issiah was 5 years old, his coaches have told me that my son has gift for football - he was a Captain and a leader on the football field. For Issiah, football is his passion and basketball is "his life". He played on a basketball team throughout the summer and winter months - these teams comprised of some pretty extraordinary players and Issiah would work all day and night (literally all night in the dark) trying to improve his game. That's just how Issiah is and always has been - he is hard on himself in every aspect of his life. For instance, he has never had below B grade in any class, and every night before bed, he would lay out and iron his own uniform. He wants to be the best that he can be at anything he does.
Life took a turn in early November during the first game of the regular 5th grade basketball season. Issiah went up for a rebound, fell, and didn't get up. As a sports mom, I didn't rush over - instead, I gave him a moment to collect himself. Shortly after, the coaches and I noticed that he was crying, and that's when we all rushed over. His coaches, who have known Issiah since 2nd grade, have never seen Issiah cry before. So this time, they knew something was terribly wrong, and helped carry Issiah to the sideline. I figured it was probably just a bad sprain. We iced it elevated it, hoping he would feel better in the morning. The next morning I noticed some significant swelling and decided it was worth a trip to get checked out. I'll never forget the phone call on my way to the hospital when his football coach (who happened to be at the game that night) called expressing his concern for Issiah. This coach had known Issiah since kindergarten, and again had never seen him cry .
When x-ray results came in, the doctor seemed immediately concerned; almost in denial, and requested that he get an MRI as well. When the MRI results came in, she told me she could not believe it. She had suspected a tear because of the bone bruising, but at age of 10, it was so uncommon and unlikely, that she did not want to alarm me. However based on the results, I was told that Issiah had completely torn his ACL.
We had no idea what we were in for. I called his coach and he tried to argue with me, telling me that there must have been a misunderstanding, as he was way too young to have had a torn ACL. At the time, neither Issiah or I understood the severity of the injury. As we spoke with the surgeon a few days later he had to accept the fact that his basketball season would be over, and that he would need to prepare himself for surgery. This was tough for Issiah, and all he could think about was "what about football?". He accepted that his basketball season would be cut short, but this would be his 6th grade year in football - his final year in peewee, which was a big deal for him.
The surgeon called Issiah his "special case", and wanted to try a new procedure since they did not have the proper size graft to repair a ACL on a still growing child. Issiah worked hard in physiotherapy; he went 3 times a week for approximately 6 weeks until February 8th - surgery day. They opted to use his IT band instead of the patella or hamstring graft and operated on the sides of his legs instead of straight down the middle as most ACL surgeries are done - the surgeon believed that it would be easier to move around his growth plates that way. The surgery was planned for 3 hours, but ended up taking 5.5 hours - I was a mess in the hospital waiting room, sitting with his basketball coach, who was by my side trying to reassure me. Initially, the doctors told us Issiah would be going home, but was later told that Issiah would definitely be staying overnight for pain management and to begin therapy. When I finally had a chance to see Issiah after the surgery, he was in good spirits up until the nerve block and pain medication wore off. The staff could not stay on top of his pain, so when the physical therapist came to his hospital bed to work with him, he was in so much pain they could not do anything with him. So we stayed another night. Issiah had lots of visitors - coaches, teammates, and family all came to support him.
I took a week off work because they told me he would be getting around pretty well after a few days. There was absolutely nothing in the world that could prepare me for the upcoming days and weeks helping him through the early stages of the ACL recovery. We were home by Day 3, and there was nothing but tears, Vicodin, ibuprofen and the dreaded lifesaving ice machine. Every 4 hours I had my alarm was set to give him his painkillers, and if I slept through an alarm, his crying would surely wake me up. I was emptying pee cups and filling ice machines around the clock for 3 more days. This was not the son that I was used to - little did I know it would be some time before I had my son back. I had to call his football coach to help me get him in the van because we were having a 45 min standoff trying to get him to therapy. I was nice, I was mean, I cried, but nothing worked. Therapy consisted of a nice massage and some stretches followed by a lot of pain. Wheelchair-bound, I could see my son slowly fading to the swamp of sadness and despair. By Day 5, he was apologetic and felt like he was inconveniencing me with all this injury, and that made me sad. I told him the stronger pain medications were making him feel that way, and he told me to throw them away. I assured him he was not being an inconvenience, but with 3 other kids to take care of, he knew it was rough for me, and felt like he was being a burden. I called on his two best friends to come over for a sleepover, and that was probably the best thing I had done for him.
Fast forward to summer break with AUU basketball in full swing - Issiah was down to one crutch and finally a lighter full brace. Initially, he would go to the games to watch, as his twin brother was on the team. Sometimes, I would watch him on the bench and actually start to cry embarrassingly. Nothing prepares you for the mental side of this injury, even as a mother. He looked so sad as he watched his brother and teammates. The next weekend and the following weekends, he no longer wanted to attend to watch the games. He couldn't bare to watch. I pulled up to the house one day to see him sitting in the driveway with some headphones on, dribbling his basketball. He had hopes that if he worked hard enough he would be ready for his 6th grade peewee year. Sadly, his surgeon informed him that his knee would not be ready. The coach and I encouraged him to come out to the games, and that they would put him on the staff. The football coach told me he needed him out on the field, even if to assist with coaching. Issiah refused. He did not want to be out there watching everyone else play. He became withdrawn, frustrated and angry.
6th grade peewee came and the team made it to the Superbowl but lost, with every parent and coach telling my child that that's why they needed him out there. I became upset. Didn't they know he wanted to be out there badly but couldn't? They made Issiah feel like it was his fault. Not being able to nurse the mental part of his recovery was absolutely the worse feeling as a mother. I can get him ice and pain medications and help with the physical pain, but psychologically, my boy was struggling and it broke my heart. The Issiah I had known was such a strong, proud and determined kid - this was not my kid. The summer was full of limitations and frustration. Everyone was their bikes while Issiah was on his wheelchair. I reminded him that his situation was temporary and we watched videos of wheelchair sports. Eventually he was relieved of the physical pain, and his determination returned. The surgeon said he was ready for winter basketball as long as he wore his DonJoy knee brace during all physical activity. My son smiled so wide when he tried on his new brace and was told it was time.
The beast was unleashed!
After months of physical therapy, the return to basketball deemed a little more difficult then he expected. Not being able to pivot quite like he used to and struggling with the quick breaks were frustrating for him. He didn't trust his new knee and being out of shape from the surgery really wasn't helping. His coach was supportive and encouraging, but would still keep him on the sidelines quite a bit, telling me that he needed more therapy.
All I saw was my son giving 110% effort, but he was not where he used to be, and we both knew it. That didn't sit well with Issiah, who went back at training hard - he went home and practiced in the snow in the dark. I'd go to sleep hearing basketballs dribbling each night. By then, he was down to physical therapy only once a week, and eventually he was discharged. It was all up to him now. So here we are now...
Issiah is one of the hardest working kids on the team and is back getting his well-deserved play time after all his hard work. He lost all the weight gained from the surgery, and is currently training for the upcoming 7th grade football team, while still playing basketball on the weekends. He's excited to get to go to nationals with his basketball team in July. However I know in my heart the moment he puts them football pads on will feel like the greatest accomplishment of his life. I tell him all the time he needs to be proud of everything he's accomplished in 1 year alone. This was his battle that only he could win. His own little victory mentally and physically that not many his age would understand.
Cameron Brosnihan is one of the youngest athletes to ever experience an ACL tear. He tore his ACL playing football when he was only 9 years old. Determined to get back to playing football, he worked extremely hard throughout rehab, and made a successful comeback. Even more remarkable, he then led his team to winning the Eastern Massachusetts championship.
It was September 2016 and my 9 year old son, Cameron, just started the 4th grade. His passion has always been football. He was the starting safety for his Pop Warner football team and this was his 3rd year playing. Sunday October 23, 2016 was a beautiful fall day. It was a perfect day to play football here in Massachusetts (USA).
On this day, his coach called a play to blitz. Cameron went in hard to tackle the quarter back and had his foot planted just as he got hit from behind. He didn’t expect the impact so his planted leg twisted and he fell. The game never stopped for an injury on the field. Cameron cried in pain and just got up and hopped to the sideline with tears still streaming down his face.
When Cameron didn’t go back in the game, I had a concern, as that was out of character for him. At half time, I had asked if he was ok and his reply to me was a simple “yes”. After the game, I noticed he was limping and his knee was very swollen, but oddly enough he had no pain. We did the usual treatments of ice, elevate, Advil and rest with no sports, which was hard for him. A week later the swelling had gone down and now we faced his last game of the football season. Cameron said his knee felt ok and he had no pain and he’d like to try and play. I was very hesitant but we did allow him to try. After one sprint down the field he came off crying and did not return back to the game. I knew right then, something was not right. Maybe it was not just a sprained knee as I initially thought.
The next day I took him in to see his primary care doctor. They saw how his knee was swollen again, yet they were confident it was just a very bad sprain too. However, they suggested an orthopedic visit to be safe. Days later we went to see the orthopedic doctor. He seems puzzled and he didn’t like how the knee was still swollen after 9 days and so he ordered an MRI.
The MRI was done shortly after that visit and we went back in for the results. The orthopedic doctor came in as we anxiously waited the results and he said, “Cameron, I don’t know how you did this, but you tore your ACL.” My heart sank and my eyes filled up with tears trying not to cry. I knew what that meant to an athlete but a 9 year old had no idea what was to come with this devastating news. He then went on to tell us that he could not help us due to the magnitude of the injury on such a young child and we had to see a specialist at Children’s Hospital in Boston, MA. He too was shocked and told us that Cameron was the youngest patient he had seen in his orthopedic career with a torn ACL.
The next day we were able to see an orthopedic surgeon at Boston Children’s who did confirm a complete tear of the left ACL. However, the good news was that he could be fixed using a technique called Physeal sparing ACL reconstruction. Due to his open growth plates they could not do the traditional adult ACL surgery. With this surgery they would use his own IT band as the graft and they would fix him avoiding the growth plates entirely. He would have to be on crutches with a brace for 6 weeks. The re tear rate was only at 4% and they have mastered this surgery in young kids. We were informed that after he was healed he could return to all physical activity, including football! We had hope and faith at that point and so we set the surgery for December 12, 2016.
You can’t begin to explain to a 9 year old what the next year of his life may look like. There were a lot of unknowns and uncertainty’s. To go from an active 3 sport athlete to absolutely nothing but PT was unimaginable. No more recess or gym at school and no more sports, for now. School and sports is how a 9 year old bonds with his friends. It is his life line and what defines him and how would he react to all of this being torn away so suddenly?
December 12, 2016 came and we were excited to have his knee finally fixed, yet to say we were nervous and scared was an understatement. The surgery was 3 ½ hours and was a success. Looking back now, we can say that was the easy part. The next week was about controlling and managing his pain. I will never forgot one night in the wee hours of the morning, we heard the clopping noises of crutches coming down the hallway with him crying and yelling for us to help him. He awoke to excruciating pain and needed help. As I tried to calm him down and control his pain, my heart was in pieces watching this agony unfold in front of me. It was not fair. Thankfully the pain subsided around day 8.
The following days, weeks and months were spent at physical therapy. We certainly had our good, bad and ugly days. We had days of tears, days of frustration, days of anger, but we also had days of hope, days of thankfulness, days of faith, days of relief and days of happiness. We found a lot of new activities to pass the time. Robotics, cooking, art, movies, and arcades, to name a few. However, nothing was going to be as good as sports and football. He just wanted his old life back.
We did PT 3 times a week and then the daily at home exercises up to 3 times a day, every day. They were long and they were very boring to a 9 year old. It’s hard to make “leg lifts, “box jumps”, “balancing” or any exercise at PT fun. We worked extremely hard in the early days getting his leg to go straight. That was a challenge for us. However, what seemed to be an impossible task was getting full flexion. I personally worked on Cameron’s bend 2-3 times a day. I, myself, felt defeated but I did not give up. It took me 7 long agonizing months to get a full bend in his leg (heel to butt). We celebrated that goal and victory that day! And funny enough it was the day before he turned 10 that we mastered that bend. In my eyes, that was a great birthday gift.
Towards the end of his recovery he did weekly 1 on 1’s with a personal trainer as well as the 3 times a week PT visits. At 6 months, the surgeon put him through some detailed testing at a sports preventive injury center to see if he would clear us to return to sports. At the 6 month mark he failed the tests so we worked harder and we went back at month 8 to be re tested.
August 6, 2017 was month 8 AND the new football season had just started a week prior! It was on that day that I got the phone call we had dreamed of. He had passed those tests and got the final clearance from the surgeon to return to sports. My heart sank and I cried tears of joy! What Cam and all of us worked so hard for had finally arrived! I was hesitant to let him play for the fear of re injury but this was why we worked so hard. This was our end goal and we made it there!
Needless to say Cameron was in disbelief that he finally was cleared and free again to be a kid and his smile went from ear to ear! He never looked back from that moment on. He eased into the pre -season and continued to work hard. He had his starting defensive spot back and his team went on to have an undefeated season winning the 2017 Eastern Massachusetts championship!
Cameron has learned a lot from this difficult journey. Patience, working hard and not giving up even when things seem impossible, are just a few! He has learned more about his knee, the ligaments, and the muscles in his leg that I think he would make a wonderful future physical therapist. Of course like any mother, I still worry deep inside about the future. However, we choose to live for the moment and be glad for our amazing accomplishments. The future is out of our control so we don’t worry about the unknowns now.
It has been 18 months since his surgery and he now will show off his scars. He is proud and we are all inspired by him! He is an ACL Warrior! So to anyone going through something similar, take Cameron’s advice and “Don’t ever give up and keep trying!”
During my Sophomore Season at Moravian College, I suffered my first ever knee-injury. At first I thought it was one of those moments where I could take a few plays off then get back in the game. I soon realized that this was not the case and that I would be sidelined for the next 6 weeks.
I suffered a grade 3 MCL tear that left me feeling defeated. I went to rehab every single day and began to grow frustrated that I could no longer do simple things on my own. Going to the bathroom, taking a shower, and even getting to class were things that once were so easy, but became so difficult.
My football team was also struggling at the time of the season, with a 2-4 record; our post-season hopes looked slim at best. I was not 100% by any means, but with the assistance of a DonJoy knee brace, I was able to return to action against Juanita college feeling about 70%.
Long story short, we ended up winning out the season, which led to an invitation to participate in the 2010 ECAC Division III Southeast Bowl Championship Game. When the Championships came around, we ended up beating Wilkes 26-14. This capped off one of the toughest and most memorable seasons of my athletic career.
Although I felt defeated on my road to recovery, I battled through adversity and mental frustration to get back to the top of my game towards the end of the season.
I learned a few lessons on my road to recovery - the main one being mental toughness. I had to tell myself everyday that I would return to the field and we would make something of this dismal season. We sometimes endure things in life and in sports that seem impossible to overcome. However, these are the moments that shape us into successful human beings. Without the help of my training staff, teammates, and friends, I’m not sure that I would have been able to get through it the way that I did.
If you put your head down and make it a mission to recover, I believe you can overcome any setback that you will face in life. I would love to hear about other people who have also been through a similar tough time in their athletic career, and invite you to share your stories with us here.