Woman gets active lifestyle back after ACL treatment
Tracy Hollenbach has a passion for life. In addition to her family and career, she also loves tennis, her friends – and shoes (she owns dozens of pairs). Unfortunately, during a Tennis Club “Girls Night Out” in June 2013, Tracy’s choice of footwear proved to be her downfall. A tumble on the dance floor severely injured her knee.
“When my friends helped me up, I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t walk,” Tracy remembered.
Before the accident, this busy mother of three had been playing tennis five days a week, practicing yoga three times a week and riding her bicycle regularly. Suddenly, she found herself in an examination room in the Loyola Center for Health at River Forest.
“I’ve always had a good, easy and quick experience there,” Tracy said. As it turns out, this visit was her entry point to one of the most sophisticated and highly respected sports medicine practices in the Chicago area.
“At Loyola, caring for orthopaedic injuries is truly a team approach,” said Nathaniel Jones, MD, assistant professor, Family Medicine and Orthopaedics, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine (Stritch). “Based on my training and experience working with all kinds of athletes, I suspected significant damage to her knee that might require an operation.”
Dr. Jones referred Tracy to Paul Belich, MD, assistant professor, Orthopaedic Surgery & Rehabilitation, Stritch, in order to complete the evaluation in an expedited fashion and to help Tracy explore the full range of treatment options. The staff made the appointment with Dr. Belich before Tracy left the clinic, ensuring a smooth transition from one team member to the next. “We’ve found that patients appreciate a smooth transition” Dr. Jones said. “It helps them understand the next step, and they know that they can always call us with questions later.”
Loyola’s comprehensive sports medicine team includes physicians, radiologists, surgeons, physician assistants, nurses and physical therapists. Through their collaboration, the team can diagnose and treat any type of orthopaedic injury. The expert skills, compassion and concern that they provide to their patients can be traced in part to their work with many high school and college athletic programs in the area, as well as professional athletes.
“After examining my knee, Dr. Belich said I probably tore a ligament and that an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) would help us know for sure,” Tracy said. A few days later, Dr. Belich told her that the MRI confirmed she had torn her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), as well as the meniscus ligament. As one might expect, learning of her severe knee damage was extremely emotional.
“I cried, but Dr. Belich was lovely and nice, explaining my options,” Tracy recalled. “He said I don’t have to have an operation, but someone as active as me would probably want it. He suggested I see Dr. Tonino.”
For an orthopaedic surgeon as experienced with knee operations as Pietro Tonino, MD, professor, Orthopaedic Surgery & Rehabilitation, Stritch, and program director, Sports Medicine, Loyola University Medical Center, repairing knee ligaments is fairly routine. Even so, Dr. Tonino always reinforces what Dr. Belich told Tracy: You don’t have to undergo a surgery if you would prefer to try only physical therapy, and if your goals don’t require a surgically repaired knee joint.
Avoiding an operation was not a good option for Tracy. “I knew if she didn’t get it fixed, her knee would give her problems when she played tennis,” Dr. Tonino said. “I sensed from her that staying active is important, so we did the surgery last July.”
Teamwork Geared Toward Prevention
“Sports medicine is a specialty that concentrates on prevention, so nonoperative approaches and methods to prevent future injuries are important areas of focus,” added Dr. Tonino. He has two sons and two daughters for whom he often gives advice about staying healthy and active. Dr. Tonino and his colleagues have similar conversations with their patients.
“We explain how patients can prevent injuries and thus avoid surgery, but sometimes the best treatment is an operation. This elective, one-day, outpatient surgery can be scheduled around family and work needs,” Dr. Tonino said. “Excellent surgery must be followed with an excellent rehabilitation program, and our sports medicine rehabilitation specialists are all trained in the most up-to-date techniques. We have found that working together and getting everyone involved – particularly the patient – is a recipe for success.”
The Loyola team tailors post-surgery rehabilitation to what is realistic for each individual. Understanding that patients, unlike professional athletes, cannot devote endless hours to strengthening the joint and entire body, Loyola’s rehabilitation specialists develop a plan that is effective without placing unrealistic demands on the patients.
Tracy began her physical therapy a week after her operation. About four months later she returned to yoga. With the help of a knee brace, she began playing tennis again in April 2014, nine months after reconstructive surgery.
“It’s been a really fantastic experience,” Tracy said. “From the great reputation of Loyola and Dr. Tonino, to how amazingly thoughtful and friendly the nurses and all the staff have been to me, I feel so fortunate to have them all so close to my home.”
Tracy is glad that her surgery will help her again live life to the fullest, with more nights in stylish shoes while out with her friends proving she has returned to her old self. “I’ve never been faulted for not enjoying myself,” she said with a smile.