That's what Great Bridge High School star tackle Connor O'Shea of Chesapeake faced after a shoulder injury sidelined him during his junior year, dimming his dream of playing college football.
As an offensive lineman, the 6-foot, 5-inch, 275-pound junior wasn't normally fending off hard hitting tackles. His job was to block - physically keep defenders away from the player on his team holding the ball. But he vividly remembers the fateful night when, after his quarterback threw an interception, he found himself suddenly on the defensive. And just as suddenly, Connor was blindsided by a powerful hit from a lineman on the opposing team.
"I fell hard, and my shoulder dislocated completely. In all my years of football, it was the worst pain I had ever felt," Connor recalls.
The school's athletic trainer rushed onto the field and was able to reset his shoulder. As Connor and his family headed to CHKD's emergency room, uncertainty about his future in football added to his pain. Only six games in, Connor wondered if his season - along with his chance to be seen by college recruiters - was at an end.
With no broken bones visible on the X-ray, the emergency department sent Connor home with a sling and a referral to CHKD Sports Medicine for follow up. Four days later, Connor consulted with Dr. Joel Brenner, a CHKD primary care sports medicine physician and medical director of the program, who recommended physical therapy to restore stability to Connor's injured shoulder. "Connor is a very dedicated athlete and at that point of his career, sports medicine physical therapy was his best option," Dr. Brenner commented.
Connor missed the rest of the season, but worked with an expert team of CHKD sports medicine physical therapists to build strength in his shoulder. He was soon pain-free and spent the remainder of his junior year preparing for what could be the determining factor in his ability to play football in college - his performance during his final high school season.
When August came, he felt ready. Connor used a brace to restrict his shoulder movement, decreasing the chance of another dislocation. His hopes of a college football career seemed to be back on the horizon.
However, Connor soon found that his injured shoulder could not endure the intense and recurring impact of field play. His shoulder began painfully slipping in and out of the socket - increasing in frequency to multiple times in a single game by late in the season. "In my position, I need my shoulder to help me block. But, when I'd hit someone, it felt loose and just wouldn't hold in place," Connor explained. "I managed to do my job on the field that year, but it was really tough."
Giving up on his senior year and his chance to play on the college level was not an option for Connor. Despite the instability of his shoulder, he played well. And his perseverance and determination paid off when Shepherd University in West Virginia made him a scholarship offer to join their team.
Connor was ecstatic. But, his feelings of uncertainty returned. College players would be larger, the hits harder and the game much more intense. He wasn't sure his shoulder could handle the impact. "I knew deep down that I couldn't play in college with my shoulder the way it was," says Connor.
He returned to Dr. Brenner for advice. Suspecting that surgery might be the best option, Dr. Brenner asked Dr. Marc Cardelia, a CHKD sports medicine orthopedic surgeon and surgical director of the program, to take a look. After a thorough examination of Connor, his medical history and on-the-field experiences, Dr. Cardelia suspected that a Bankart lesion was the cause of his ongoing issues. He ordered an MRI which confirmed his suspicions.
Bankart lesions occur when the ligaments, soft tissue and muscle that hold the shoulder in place tear away from the joint. This condition is often caused by repeated shoulder dislocations. Unlike the hip joint, which is a ball inside a socket, the shoulder is more like a golf ball sitting on a tee. The soft tissue surrounding the ball is essential to keeping it in place. The more space between the soft tissue and the joint, the more unstable the shoulder becomes.
"Since restricting activity wasn't an option for Connor, I recommended that he undergo a surgical procedure called Bankart repair, which would give him the best chance for a full recovery and continuation of his football career," Dr. Cardelia explained. In Connor's case, Dr. Cardelia would be able to perform the repair arthroscopically through three small incisions - reducing his recovery time substantially.
"I knew if I didn't have the surgery, I wouldn't be successful playing football at Shepherd," Connor says.
The outpatient surgery was scheduled for January 25, 2013, at CHKD's Health and Surgery Center at Princess Anne in Virginia Beach. This would give Connor's shoulder eight months to recover before he had to report to school for full contact play. In the 90-minute procedure, Dr. Cardelia first removed scar tissue from Connor's shoulder. He then reattached the soft tissue to the edges of the shoulder joint socket, using sutures to secure it until the healing could create a permanent bond.
The procedure went smoothly, and Connor was back home in his own bed that night on his way to fulfilling his dreams. "Dr. Cardelia did a great job with my surgery. He really understood my goals and needs. I couldn't have asked for a better doctor to take care of me," Connor comments.
Connor knew recovery would be difficult. He also knew that the CHKD sports medicine team would be by his side every step of the way.
After a month in a stabilizing sling, Connor looked forward to beginning his rehabilitation. Conveniently, the CHKD Health Center at Oakbrooke in Chesapeake, location of one of CHKD's four sports medicine physical therapy fitness centers, is located just five minutes from his home. This was a definite plus since Connor would be visiting two to three days a week for four months of therapy.
"In addition to my recovery, I learned to treat my body better. The stuff they taught me will definitely help me to play more safely in the future," Connor says.
On August 17, 2013, almost exactly eight months post-surgery, Connor O'Shea was off to college with a clean bill of health from surgeon Dr. Marc Cardelia and his team of therapists.
"He worked very hard and did everything we asked him to do. He was the ideal patient and got the result he deserved. I will see him over his Christmas break as a final follow up, but I have complete confidence that he will have a successful return to football," comments Dr. Cardelia.
With CHKD's sports medicine specialists behind him, Connor feels ready to tackle his future and the adventures that lie ahead. "Everyone at CHKD was awesome. I wouldn't be playing football at this level if it wasn't for Dr. Cardelia, Dr. Brenner and all the sports medicine physical therapy staff. I really owe it all to them."