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patient name: Ella

age: 15

seen in: Center for the Female Athlete

 When Ella entered the Dayton Children Hospital’s Center for the Female Athlete in early 2022, it was at the recommendation of several friends and her Tippecanoe High School cross country teammates. At first it was simply for a health assessment and to learn how to manage an iron deficiency. However, several months later she would return to the center for extensive treatment as a result of severe stress fractures in her shins which was causing her crippling pain. For the next year, Ella would have to not just work on the physical aspects of her injury but also on the mental and emotional toll it took as well.

The Center for the Female Athlete is an innovative, multidisciplinary program designed to tackle barriers and gaps in female athletes’ physical, nutritional and emotional health. The center is the only one of its kind in Ohio and is led by an all-female team that works with female athletes, ages 11-18, to give them the tools and resources to understand their bodies' unique needs. Through the center, female athletes can find the program they’ve been looking for that helps them not only be the best version of their athletic self, but the best version of their whole self.

becoming her best self

“The holistic approach they have is life changing. They didn’t just care for Ella’s physical health, but for her as whole person. They look at her not just ‘what can we do for the here and now’ but long-term health and wellness,” said Heather Combs, Ella’s mom. “The fact that it’s a fully female staff who were all athletes themselves at one time and therefore can relate to what Ella was going through, it was a game changer for our family.”

For Ella, while the physical pain was difficult, overcoming the mental challenges of her injury has been the most challenging.

“I was in a dark place and struggled a lot. Linh-Han Ikehara, the center’s behavioral health specialist, helped me climb out of that hole and develop tools to cope and move forward. I would not be where I am today without the entire team of women who worked with me to ensure that I am the best version of me.”

life-saving support

Heather said watching her daughter struggle through the mental and emotional aspects of her injury made her feel helpless at times as a parent. She recalls a time when it was a difficult evening at home, so she sent a message via MyChart to Linh-Han. She not only answered but scheduled Ella for a visit the very next day.

“From the beginning, the team had Ella at the forefront of every care decision made. They made her a priority. Linh was amazing and I truly believe she was life-saving,” Heather said.

Heather also credits Ella’s physical therapist for helping her to heal from the injury and get back to all the activities that she enjoys. She is also thankful for the Troy physical therapy satellite location, which was just a short drive from the family home.

“Dayton Children’s benefits kids right here in our community and the region. With several different locations it was perfect for Ella because she was able to undergo physical therapy close to home,” she said. “Dayton Children’s is focused on our kids and their long-term health, growth and safety.”

back on the field

Ella has since recovered from her injury; however, it made her stop and reflect on what’s important to her. As such, she decided to step back from cross country as she enters her sophomore year in the fall and try something different – soccer. She has several friends who play the sport and likes the team aspect of it.

“I’m in high school. I want to have fun, try new experiences and see where that takes me,” she said. “My injury and recovery taught me that I have to focus on my personal and mental health,” she said.

In fact, Ella has found inspiration from the women at Center for the Female Athlete that she’s thinking of going into the sports nutrition and help the next generation of athletes.

For Heather, watching her daughter rise up from injury both physically and mentally and seeing her happy and healthy, makes her grateful to the Center for the Female Athlete.

“I would recommend anyone to this program. Dayton Children’s Hospital is truly a leader by doing so. You have a team of people that can makes it a priority to care of a young female athlete’s physical and mental wellbeing, all at one place, all at the same time and communicates so effectively, that’s just the best-case scenario,” she said. “Ella is stronger than ever, and we are so grateful to them.”

Learn more about the Center for the Female Athlete by visiting Athletes can also schedule a free 30-minute consult with one of the center’s athletic trainers to learn more about the program and see if they are a good fit. 

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