Trauma on the Field

CHKD Sports Medicine team tackles Brooke’s bad break.

In late August 2014, 12-year-old Brooke Wilson was looking forward to two things – her Labor Day weekend soccer tournament in York County and the first day of seventh grade at Smithfield Middle School. Unfortunately, neither of those events would turn out quite the way she had planned.

Brooke Wilson_Trauma on the Field

During the very first game of the soccer tournament, Brooke found herself in the perfect position to score a goal. Breaking away from chasing defenders, she reached the goal box, planted her left leg and swung her right leg back for the kick. As the defending goalie dove for the ball, Brooke felt the impact – a sudden searing pain shot through her standing leg as she tumbled over the goalie into a crumbled heap on the grass.

The goalie’s head had collided with Brooke’s leg just above the kneecap with such force that her femur, the longest and strongest bone in the body, had broken in two. “It was the worst pain I’ve felt in my whole life,” Brooke remembers. “I was so scared. I just started screaming.”

Help came quickly from the sideline. Brooke’s coach, Jeremiah Burke, a trained EMT and firefighter, kept Brooke calm and her leg immobile until the ambulance arrived. Brooke was rushed to Riverside Regional Medical Center where arrangements were immediately made to transport her to CHKD.

Dr. Sheldon St. Clair, a CHKD pediatric orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine, was prepared to treat Brooke’s traumatic injury when she arrived at CHKD.“ Her break was severe,” says Dr. St. Clair. “Immediate surgery was essential to return the bone to correct alignment and secure it in place to prevent further injury and allow for proper healing.”

Pediatric orthopedic surgeons like Dr. St. Clair have special training in surgical techniques that give a still-growing child the best opportunity for a full recovery. “Brooke’s fracture was through the growth center of her femur just above her knee,” explains Dr. St. Clair. “Damage to that area can result in growth disturbances in the leg if not carefully repaired – potentially leaving her with one leg shorter than the other.”

Within hours of her arrival at CHKD, Brooke was headed to the operating room. Dr. St. Clair inserted two stainless steel screws into her femur to reinforce and stabilize the fracture. A second surgery would be needed in a few months to remove them, but for now, all she needed to do was rest her leg completely and let it heal.

Brooke’s parents, Heather and Shane, were thankful that their daughter was able to get expert pediatric surgical care so quickly. “Seeing Brooke with such a serious injury was traumatic for us too,” remembers Shane. “We were worried and scared. But, we had no doubt our daughter was in good hands at CHKD.”

Unfortunately, Brooke had to face the hard realization that, like her soccer tournament, her first day of middle school would not go as planned. Instead of arriving at school in her specially selected first day outfit, Brooke would spend the day in the hospital in a pink full-leg cast that stretched from her hip to her ankle.

For the next three days, CHKD’s inpatient rehabilitation team taught Brooke how to navigate her daily routine without putting any weight on her healing leg. Her recuperation would involve six weeks in a wheelchair, a month with a walker, another month with crutches and two final months in a full-length leg brace.

Brooke’s disappointment soon turned to determination to get back on the field in time for field hockey in the spring. After six weeks, her cast was removed and she began physical therapy sessions twice a week with CHKD’s sports medicine team. Brooke made steady progress, working with therapists for 26 weeks at the sports medicine gym inside CHKD’s Health and Surgery Center at Oyster Point in Newport News, a convenient distance from her home in Windsor, Virginia.

“It was amazing to watch Brooke’s progress through therapy. All her physical therapists specialize in sports medicine, so they understood how important it was to Brooke to get back out there and play her sports again.” says Shane. ”She looked forward to being pushed by her therapist each session. When she finished all her therapy, she actually missed going to regular sessions.”

Brooke Wilson_Trauma on the Field

“Brooke was an awesome, dedicated patient,” says Erica Walters, DPT, one of Brooke’s CHKD sports medicine physical therapists. “We started with a lot of hands on techniques to restore her range of motion, then worked to rebuild her strength and eventually progressed toward her return to sports. We’re going to miss seeing her but are very happy she has fully recovered with no limitations.”

Brooke’s hard work during therapy paid off. Seven months after that fateful day on the field, she was cleared to return to full activity and wasted no time getting back in the game. She played field hockey in the spring, competed in several 5K races and re-joined her soccer team. As a rising eighth grader at Smithfield Middle School, she also plans to try out for the junior varsity field hockey, indoor track and soccer teams at Smithfield High School.

With all the sports Brooke has planned for her future, her parents decided to enroll her in CHKD’s Strong Girls program after her rehabilitation was complete. Strong Girls is a 6-week training program designed to reduce the rate of ACL injuries in young female athletes. Brooke loved working with the CHKD sports medicine team, and Shane and Heather were thrilled to do anything they could to help keep their daughter injury-free in the future – especially since the program was now available at the CHKD Health Center at Butler Farm in Hampton.

“Before all this happened, we had no idea CHKD had a sports medicine program designed especially for young athletes. They don’t just treat kids who are injured. They have fitness, performance and prevention programs too,” says Shane. “We are so grateful to Dr. St. Clair for putting our little girl back together, to all her physical therapists for pushing her to get better and to everyone else at CHKD for being there for us in so many different ways.”