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Injury is no stranger to 17-year-old Emily Weldon. She’s played high-level soccer for nearly 10 years, but in September 2016, she faced an injury like none she’d ever felt before.

“We got a phone call from the opposing high school’s athletic trainer. He was on the field with her screaming in the background. I immediately thought, this is bad,” said Shannon Weldon, Emily’s mother. “She’s had concussions, she’s had it all, but we’ve never gotten a call from the athletic trainer on the field.”

Emily’s a defender. She’d just cleared the ball when an opposing player ran through her leg and took her out, sending her crashing to the ground, wincing in pain. It was enough to prompt that frantic call from the field, Emily still writhing nearby. Shannon and her husband Terry took Emily to the emergency department at Dayton Children’s, where they learned her collision had “basically shredded” her Anterior Cruciate Ligament, more commonly known as ACL.

“We were not mentally prepared for how brutal those first 72 hours were. It was awful,” Shannon said.

The ACL is a short band of tough but flexible fibrous tissue that helps to stabilize a person’s knee joint, so Emily’s injury made movement a challenge. When she was sent home from her emergency department visit, she was forced to make the living room her home; her leg up, hooked to drainage tubes and draped in ice.

Emily’s journey to recovery was just getting started. To prepare for surgery, she began rehab with physical therapists at Dayton Children’s to gain strength. Then in early November, she underwent a three hour surgery. Dr. Jeffrey Mikutis, pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Dayton Children’s, reconstructed her ACL using a tendon graph.  He took a tendon from the front of her knee and used it to replace Emily’s shredded ACL. 

determined to recover

Emily’s traumatic injury was life changing. In an instant, she went from an athletic teenager who moved around with ease to a patient who needed help to complete everyday tasks. She carried the elevator key at school for months. But Emily wouldn’t let her knee sideline her. After surgery, she got to work. Emily traveled to Dayton Children’s three days a week in the beginning, meeting with physical therapists Mike Breneman, DPT, Ann Smith, DPT and board certified in orthopaedics and pediatrics, and John Steiner, OT.

“The therapists were fantastic,” said Shannon. “They knew how to joke with her. They were able to read her personality and work with her. They knew when to push her and how hard to push her.”

Therapy was tough and at times, painful, but Emily knew it was what she had to do to get back to the game she loves and to pursue her dream of college play.

“There were times I needed to walk away because it was hard to watch, but they knew how to motivate her and she was determined to get back on the field,” Shannon said.

Emily’s three day a week therapy was soon reduced to two days a week, then one. She pushed hard physically, all while facing the emotional trauma that often comes with such a shock. Not only was Emily kept from the soccer field; her injury prevented her from every teenager’s dream: taking the drivers’ test. She was a high school student living in limbo.

“The worst part was the unknown,” said Shannon. “Her whole life is soccer. You take that away from her and she didn’t know what to do. You get a whole range of emotions: scared, depressed. It changes your whole life. Then you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

hope for the future

Unfortunately, Emily’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. Junior year is when college scouts are out looking for new talent and before her injury, Emily was an exciting prospect guaranteed to make it on someone’s list. She’d started on recreational teams at the age of 7, and was quickly scouted by club teams. At the age of 11, Emily was playing for the Ohio Elite Soccer Academy. She was a natural on the field.

“From the time she was 12, we’ve been looking at college,” Shannon said.

Emily was determined to stay on course for college play. In August 2017, nine months after that frightening call from the athletic trainer, Emily was cleared for a gradual return to play. For now, she’ll be able to spend up to 15 minutes on the field per game. Emily knows it’s an important opportunity.

“Colleges are pretty much making their offers to people, so now we’re hoping we can get exposure,” Shannon said.

College. That’s where the Weldons have kept their focus. Throughout her recovery, Emily continued her work in the classroom, maintaining her National Honor Society status, and waiting for her chance to return to her normal. Thanks to the physicians and physical therapists at Dayton Children’s, now is Emily’s chance to shine.

fast facts:

  • 1 in every 3,000 people in the US suffer from a torn ACL
  • ACL injuries are four to six more common in females than in males
  • Dayton Children’s does thousands ACL surgeries a year
  • Dayton Children’s offers a Sportsmetrics program that focuses on developing overall leg strength as well as improving balance in strength from the front to the back of the thigh, with one of the goals being reduced ACL injuries.