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Chesterfield Middle School student athlete Rocket Watford had been looking forward to this day for years. As a seasoned baseball player who has played on travel ball teams from an early age, Rocket found himself at his first football practice last August.
He joined his team on the football field filled with excitement at trying his hand at another sport. The play is called. He makes one wrong move. In seconds, he goes down. Immediately, he attempts to stand, only to drop to the ground under his own weight.
Individuals who experience an ACL injury often report an audible “pop” the moment the tear occurs. Rocket heard nothing. However, his leg immediately started to swell, and the pain was almost unbearable. He could not walk or stand on his own.
It was not until his coaches ran over to help him up and off the field that he realized the true extent of his injuries.
The coaches contacted Rocket’s mother, Judy, and urged her to take him to the doctor as soon as possible because they suspected an ACL injury.
“I hated seeing my son in so much pain and felt devastated by the possibility of him never playing sports again,” said Judy. “He has loved sports all his life. ‘Ball’ was even one of his first words.”
“As former Florence residents, our family has been fans of the McLeod Health system and their orthopedic surgeons for years,” recalls Judy. “We had also heard too many good things about Dr. Thomas DiStefano within the Chesterfield community to let it go.” With her choice made, Judy called McLeod Orthopaedics Cheraw and made an appointment for Rocket.
Dr. DiStefano, a McLeod Orthopedic Surgeon, specializes in sports medicine injuries such as ACL tears and meniscus tears while using minimally-invasive surgical techniques for the quickest possible recovery so his patients can get back to the playing field.
ACL tear repair surgery is an outpatient procedure using arthroscopy, a minimally-invasive approach that involves a small camera, called an arthroscope, inserted through a few tiny incisions made in the knee. This high-tech tool allows images to be transmitted in real-time to a computer screen in the operating room.
A closer look inside the knee allows the orthopedic surgeon to assess the area without having to perform a much more invasive “open” knee surgery.
The surgeon makes small incisions around the knee, followed by a salt solution that expands the surrounding tissues for greater access during the operation. Next, the physician inserts the arthroscope to search for further damage.
Normal ACL injury repair surgeries often require a graft that is pulled through the tunnels created from the incisions until it reaches the injury site. From there, the orthopedic surgeon will secure it with screws or staples depending upon the need.
If the surgeon discovers further damage, he will usually address those concerns during surgery to hopefully prevent future complications such as arthritis down the road.
The incision is then closed and pain relief administered. Lastly, the surgical team ices and elevates the knee, before transporting the patient to the recovery room.
Because of Rocket’s young age, Dr. DiStefano researched and developed an innovative way to reattach the ligament without compromising the delicate growth plates of Rocket’s changing knee. Dr. DiStefano found that drilling a much smaller two millimeter hole to reattach the tissue, instead of the traditional 10-millimeter hole, would work without compromising the growth plates. Not only would this result in less pain, but it would also eliminate the need for a second surgery.
“We do not typically see ACL tears in student athletes as young as Rocket,” said Dr. DiStefano. “Performing a standard reconstruction at his age would have violated Rocket’s growth plates, as they are still open. During skeletal growth, the tibial tubercle ossification center undergoes architectural changes as the composition of the cartilage changes. With this in mind, we found a less invasive method that would work with his growth plates, as opposed to working against them.
“Advantages of this approach include significantly less pain and a shorter recovery time so athletes can safely return to sports much sooner than expected.”
Physical therapy, both before and after surgery, remains essential to restoring the patient’s full range-of motion while simultaneously rebuilding muscle strength. Most patients also wear a knee brace during their recovery period as well as keep the leg elevated as much as possible following surgery.
Dr. DiStefano advises his surgical patients to carefully follow all rehabilitation recommendations beginning immediately after surgery to reap the best possible outcomes.
Rocket rec overed in just four months, almost half the time reported for this sort of injury. Dr. DiStefano attributes Rocket’s stellar recovery to his determination to get back on the field where he belongs all while maintaining a positive attitude and strictly adhering to his physical therapy regimen.
Earlier this spring, Rocket stepped onto the baseball field at Chesterfield Middle School for the first time since his injury. He has played almost every position with no chance of slowing down thanks to the exceptional care he received from Dr. DiStefano and his orthopedic team.
The future is bright for the young star who dreams of playing for the Atlanta Braves and meeting Javier Báez, Major League Baseball shortstop and second baseman for the Chicago Cubs.