Column: MCL injury leads to appreciation, gratitude


A.J. Forbes

“Sudden” describes an event that happens unexpectedly or without warning. Nothing can prepare an individual for an event that can’t be prepared for. A single incident has the capability to redirect the course of a person’s life, if only for a short time. Whether that event proves as beneficial or detrimental is decided by the individual.

In my case, that unpreparable event was a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL) in my left knee the week before the Bellevue West football season opener against Westside.

“The MCL’s main function is to prevent the knee from going too far inward, as well as to keep the knee stable,” according to Cedars-Sinai, a website dedicated to medical information.

On August 19, 2015, right at the beginning of practice, a teammate fell onto my knee, causing it to collapse inward. I immediately heard the ligament pop as I buckled down to the turf. Screams shot from my mouth with my hands grasped around my knee in an attempt to make the pain go away. My body rocked back and forth up until the point both the trainers and head varsity football coach Michael Huffman came to my aid.

After I was walked to the trainer’s cart, tears ran down my face. I wasn’t crying because of the pain; I was capable of handling that. Thoughts were running through my head about losing my sophomore season to this freak injury. I didn’t want to admit that I heard a pop, because I knew that that would be admitting that I had a tear.

“These injuries are so rampant,” head team physician for the Dallas Mavericks Tarek Souryal said. “There’s no good way to prevent them.”

One visit to the emergency room and an MRI later, my fear became a reality: my MCL was torn. The ligament had coiled up my leg and would need to be tacked back down to its original spot with a nail. If there was anything positive that resulted from the MRI, it was the fact that the ligament tore off the tibia and not straight through the middle. If the tear was through the middle, there would most likely be no chance that I could play before the end of the season. The fact that my MCL tore off the tibia gave me hope.

August 25 was the day that I was to have my surgery at CHI Health Midlands Hospital. I was excited for the operation. I knew the faster that I had my surgery, the faster I’d be back on the field.

For 8 hours after surgery, I couldn’t feel anything from the waist down. I was restricted to the three feet of room that I was given in the hospital bed with no ability to move my legs, though it wasn’t all bad. Countless double cheeseburgers and History Channel was at my disposal.  Although, Rick Harrison and the cast of “Pawn Stars” couldn’t save me from the immense amount of pain that shot through my leg after the painkillers wore off.

I went home later that afternoon. I attempted to sleep in the living room recliner for three days, but I kept thinking about what this process would be like. When do I start physical therapy? Will I be able to do everything I did before? Why did this happen to me?

My most prevalent thoughts were of me playing after I healed. I refused to accept that there was a possibility of not returning for my sophomore season. I was determined to excel during physical therapy and to do everything that I needed to do to put that jersey on and play under those Friday night lights with my teammates.

Athlete’s Training Center is where I resided every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon for physical therapy. Physical therapist Eric Horstman used every second of the hour long session to help me with whatever he felt necessary. Initially, basic exercises were implemented in order for me to regain range of motion and strength in my left leg. Activities to build stability in the knee followed.

As I continued to pass all the tests I was given, there was one question I always asked: When can I play again?

“The hardest part of my job is telling people no,” Horstman said. “People want to play and telling them ‘no’ is hard.”

Bi-weekly visits with orthopedic surgeon Peter Cimino proved frustrating as I entered my sixth week of recovery. Stubbornness became my enemy. I didn’t want to hear that I wasn’t ready yet. It pushed me to continue working hard during physical therapy as we moved toward sprinting, jumping, and weight training.

The eighth week of my recovery had arrived, as did evaluations from Cimino and Horstman. October 21 is when I was tested for strength, stability, and sufficient range of motion at Athlete’s Training Center. I was required to sprint thirty yards 5 times. No pain. I was required to jump on a box 2 feet tall. Too easy. I needed to be able to change direction quickly in between a series of cones. There was nothing to it. I got the go-ahead from Horstman. Cimino gave his approval the next day.

Today, the Thunderbirds take on the Lincoln North Star Navigators in the first round of the state football playoffs. I no longer have to stand on the sidelines and games, cheering on my teammates and wishing I could be out there with them.

It was hard to see the light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel. But now, I see this incident as more of a learning experience rather than a misfortune. I learned how to contribute to my team without being on the field. I developed a more vocal leadership skill, while before, I commonly lead by example. The game of football was taken away from me and that proved to me how passionate I am for the game.

AJ Forbes
Sports Editor