Sports Health Patient Stories
At NYU Langone, our sports health specialists are leaders in providing world-class care to athletes at all levels and active individuals. Our patients share their success stories after treatment.
Manuela’s Story About Surgery for a Torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament
“Being able to dance my heart out was a huge triumph.”
—Manuela, Age 21
Manuela dances professionally for companies and troupes around New York City, so it’s no surprise that she spends hours preparing and rehearsing for performances. While jumping as high as she could on a trampoline at an amusement park, she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee.
Manuela not only had tremendous knee pain, but also feared she would never dance again.
Her primary care doctor recommended she see Dr. Michael J. Alaia at NYU Langone’s Sports Medicine Center. “I was told he was the best,” she says. “I wasn’t going to put my dance career in the hands of anyone but him.”
Dr. Alaia recommended repairing the torn knee ligament with a graft taken from Manuela’s hamstring tendons. This type of graft helped to ensure that her knee would retain the flexibility needed to perform at an elite level while providing the stability and confidence she required on a daily basis in her sport.
After her surgery, Manuela worked with physical therapist Maureen McDonough at Rusk Rehabilitation to build up her strength for dancing.
“My physical therapist was my guiding light during this very difficult time. She helped me and trained me twice a week,” Manuela says. “A year after my surgery, I was back in ballet class, dancing at least 18 hours a week.”
Michael’s Story About Sternoclavicular Joint Reconstruction Surgery
“I thought I would never play ice hockey again, so it felt like a blessing to be able to play one more year as captain.”
—Michael, Age 24
As a junior at the University of Delaware, Michael was captain of the school’s Division I ice hockey team. Midway through the season in January, during a match against Rutgers University, he sustained a career-threatening injury.
“I got hit in my chest pretty hard, and my back hit the boards,” he recalls. Upon impact, Michael dislocated his sternoclavicular (SC) joint on his right side. This joint links the collarbone to the breastbone and is the only joint connecting the arm to the body. “Doctors said that my injury is usually seen in people who have been in car accidents,” Michael says.
Although doctors told Michael that he would never play hockey again, he did some research and found a video of Dr. Laith M. Jazrawi and Dr. Young W. Kwon performing the very procedure he needed: an SC joint reconstruction. Within two weeks, he had his first appointment with Dr. Jazrawi and Dr. Kwon at NYU Langone’s Sports Medicine Center and was scheduled for outpatient surgery shortly afterward.
Dr. Jazrawi and Dr. Kwon rebuilt the ligaments that support the SC joint using Michael’s own body tissue. They then connected the collarbone to the breastbone with a tendon graft, stabilizing the SC joint.
Michael wore a sling for six weeks before starting exercises to strengthen his shoulder and arm and get his range of motion back. By June, approximately four months after surgery, Michael was pain-free. A month later, he was skating again and preparing for training camp for his senior-year season.
“I thought I would never play ice hockey again,” Michael says. “It felt like a blessing to be able to play one more year as captain.”
Kira’s Story About Physical Therapy for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
“The physical therapy sessions helped me regain my range of motion, and I was able to get back on the mat to do yoga shortly after surgery. The process would’ve been so much slower without Corina in my corner.”
—Kira, Age 35
An avid yoga practitioner, Kira, 35, feels in tune with her body and can tell when something isn’t right. So when her left arm swelled up without explanation, Kira knew she needed emergency care.
At the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Emergency Services, doctors found a large blood clot that had formed under her collarbone. Kira was admitted for surgery to remove the clot, which can be life-threatening if it breaks loose and travels to the heart or lungs. Finding the cause of the clot is crucial to reducing the risk of developing another.
NYU Langone vascular surgeon Michael E. Barfield, MD, found the problem. Kira had developed thoracic outlet syndrome, which is caused when arteries, veins, or nerves between the upper ribs and collarbone become compressed and scarred. The condition is most commonly seen in athletes who perform repetitive overhead arm movements, such as baseball pitchers and swimmers, but can also result from injury or another condition, such as being born with an extra rib. In Kira’s case, it was extra cartilage on her first rib.
The diagnosis was the start of a months-long journey to get Kira back to doing the things she loves, including yoga. She needed surgery to alleviate the condition, a nearly two-hour procedure that involved widening the thoracic outlet and taking out her first rib and the additional cartilage. In preparation for the procedure and to improve her recovery, Dr. Barfield recommended that Kira start physical therapy.
Kira worked with Corina Ehrenberg, senior physical therapist at NYU Langone’s Sports Performance Center, in the three months leading up to surgery. Corina understood how important it was for Kira to regain her physical strength. “Her depth of knowledge is amazing,” Kira says. “Corina is so good. She just gets it right every time.”
After surgery, Kira was able to continue her rehabilitation and physical therapy sessions with Corina through video visits. “She already knew how my body worked and that’s why I think video visits worked so well for me,” Kira says. “She listened closely to issues I was having, suggested very helpful exercises in response, and demonstrated them for me.”
Kira credits the physical therapy sessions with reducing pain and speeding her recovery. “The physical therapy sessions helped me regain my range of motion, and I was able to get back on the mat to do yoga shortly after surgery,” she said. “The process would’ve been so much slower without Corina in my corner.”
Scott’s Story About High Tibial Osteotomy for Osteoarthritis of the Knees
“I got back a piece of my life that I thought I’d lost forever.”
—Scott, Age 52
Scott, a 52-year-old fire captain from Bayonne, New Jersey, is also a veteran endurance athlete, having competed in more than 20 Ironman races, as well as hundreds of triathlons, marathons, and various running, cycling, and swimming events. “I even had a short stint as a professional triathlete many years ago,” Scott says.
In his mid-40s, Scott had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in both knees. He resumed running, only for the pain to return even worse than before. “It got so bad one day that I went back to my orthopedist, who said I had torn my meniscus again,” he says. Scott also got some news that came as a shock: he had osteoarthritis. “I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I thought only older people got arthritis,” he says.
His surgeon recommended a surgical procedure known as high tibial osteotomy. This procedure improves knee alignment—reducing pain and pressure on the damaged area of the joint—and can delay the need for a knee replacement. He also recommended that Scott contact Dr. Eric J. Strauss, an expert in complex knee surgery at NYU Langone’s Sports Medicine Center.
Recovery after a high tibial osteotomy takes two to three months, and physical activity is limited initially. Although Scott was hesitant about surgery because of the recovery time, he met with Dr. Strauss in July 2019. In addition to a high tibial osteotomy, Dr. Strauss recommended replacing the damaged knee cartilage with an osteochondral allograft, or a piece of tissue that contains bone and cartilage. “Dr. Strauss explained that I would have no restrictions once I healed,” Scott says. “The best part about having this procedure is that it would not just fix my problem but also its cause.”
Dr. Strauss performed the surgery on both knees in October and December. After six weeks, Scott could ride the stationary bike at low or no resistance and lift light upper body weights. A few months later, he was free of crutches, and getting on and off his fire truck without giving it a second thought. He was also thrilled to start running again.
A little more than a year after surgery, Scott is completely pain-free. “I’m over the moon with the results of my two major knee surgeries,” he says. “I thought I would never run again, and now I’m running 20 miles a week at a 7:30-minute pace, biking 150 miles a week, and swimming a few days a week. I also got Dr. Strauss’s blessing to do squats and leg presses. I got back a piece of my life that I thought I’d lost forever. I’m so thankful for what Dr. Strauss and his team have done for me. He is down to earth and a genuinely good human being.”