Rachael Hayes has had the same dream since her first dance class at age 7 – to be a professional dancer. Thanks to the trusted experts at Dayton Children’s, Rachael’s dreams can still be a reality, even after shattering her kneecap.
Rachael, a seventh grader at Magsig Middle School in Centerville, was experienced in practicing a technique called a front aerial, which is a forward revolution without the body touching the floor. But that day at the gym, something went terribly wrong.
“When I walked in the door of the gymnastics facility to pick up Rachael, she was hunched over on the floor in tremendous pain and surrounded by several coaches,” recalled Patti Tordilla, Rachael’s grandmother. “Rachael had landed directly on her knee, which was quickly starting to swell.”
Rachael was first taken to a local urgent care where an x-ray revealed bone fragments in her knee. The urgent care referred Rachael’s family to Craig Shank, MD, one of Dayton Children’s orthopaedic surgeons.
Later, an MRI showed the true extent of Rachael’s injuries. Rachael’s fall resulted in dislocating her kneecap, and she suffered fractures in her knee joint involving the thigh bone and leg bone. The fractures caused loose pieces of bone and cartilage in her knee joint. In addition to the fractures, Rachael had a tear in her meniscus, which is a cartilage structure that’s important to cushioning the knee.
“Once the kneecap dislocates, the patient is at risk for repeat dislocations,” explains Dr. Shank. “Rachael needed surgery to remove the fragments of bone and stabilize the kneecap.”
For children like Rachael, a competitive dancer and gymnast, the news was heartbreaking. “Rachael was devastated,” says Kathleen Hayes, Rachael’s mother. “The day Rachael had surgery was one of the longest days in our family’s life.”
According to Dr. Shank, while kneecap dislocations are the most common knee injury, the treatment is very different in children than adults.
“Pediatric athletes and trauma patients like Rachael are still growing and their open growth plates can complicate the treatment,” says Dr. Shank. “What’s unique about pediatric orthopaedic surgeons is they are trained and experienced in treating patients who are still growing.”
After surgery, Rachael was in intense physical therapy with John Steiner at the practice for several months. She was told due to the extent of her injury that it could take up to two years before she could compete in dance or gymnastics again.
“While any big injury to the knee joint carries a risk of knee problems or arthritis in the future, I am confident that Rachael will have a strong and stable knee that will last her a long time,” says Dr. Shank.
Rachael didn’t have to wait two years to compete again, within just four short months she was enrolled in dance camp.
“I do not believe in my heart that Rachael would have recovered from such a traumatic injury if it weren’t for Dr. Shank and Dayton Children’s,” says Kathleen. “The high-quality level of care we received so close to home was amazing. Thanks to Dr. Shank and John Steiner, Rachael doesn’t have to sideline her dreams of dancing professionally someday; she’s back and stronger than ever.”
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