Amanda Sherman, 17, and Shatana Jackson, 15, can't afford to slow down on the basketball court, but when both of them tore their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) last year, it was imperative for them to undergo orthopaedic surgery and rehabilitation therapy if they were to get quickly back in the game.
In March 2010, Sherman was practicing at school when she jumped up for a rebound and came down on her left knee. The injury could have jeopardized the varsity starting position she has had held since her sophomore year.
"We initially went to the emergency room," her mother, Amy, said. "Amanda had dislocated her knee before but we knew this was something very different."
Just a couple of months later, Jackson tore her right ACL while playing in a May basketball tournament in Clearwater, Fla.
"When she got hurt, she was very brave and believed that God was not going to take basketball away from her," said Jackson's mother, Katrina.
Sherman's mother had turned to Nigel Sparks, MD, a University of Florida assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and rehabilitation, for her daughter's care. On April 15, 2010 Amanda had a successful operation. When Jackson experienced the same injury, Amy recommended Sparks to Jackson's mother.
Both girls had outpatient procedures and began physical therapy at Shands Jacksonville Outpatient Rehabilitation Center at Emerson Medical Plaza.
"ACL injuries are pretty common in soccer and basketball," Sparks said. "These injuries occur more frequently in females because women's knees are a little more knocked, which puts more stress on those joints."
He said that his method of using physical therapy both prior to and after the operation, along with his surgical technique, is what gets his patients back to doing what they enjoy.
"The standard recovery following an ACL reconstruction is one year for return to play, but our individualized rehabilitation protocols and careful attention to patients' needs allow for a much quicker recovery and faster return to sports," Sparks said.
Not only did he put these girls back on the court, but Sparks gave them a new sense of hope after dealing with other unforeseen circumstances in their lives.
"The girls lost two of their classmates and their bible teacher within seven months, and the one thing that got them through that difficult time was being able to play basketball," Amy said. "I know it sounds crazy, but basketball has been their therapy and being on the court gave them peace."
Thanks to Sparks, Sherman and Jackson regained their lives both on and off the court, ultimately leading their team to a district championship title.
It was late in the evening on Father's Day 2009 when Larry and Sharon Davis got the call every parent fears—their 21-year-old daughter, Ashley, had been in a terrible accident and was being flown to TraumaOne at Shands Jacksonville with life-threatening injuries.
Ashley was riding on the back of an all-terrain vehicle when the driver lost control and hit a tree in the Osceola National Forest. A quick-thinking friend performed CPR while another ran to the nearest house to call 911. Baker County EMS transported Ashley from the site of the accident to U.S. Highway 301 where she was met by the TraumaOne flight crew. Saving critical time, Ashley arrived at Shands Jacksonville 11 minutes after liftoff.
"From the minute she arrived, it was obvious that she had some pretty severe injuries and we needed to act quickly," Amy Klucher, RN, said. "We had very limited exposure to her before she went to the OR."
When Ashley's parents arrived at the hospital, she was undergoing surgery to remove her ruptured spleen. They later learned she had experienced cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and again after she arrived. She had facial, rib and skull fractures, two fractured vertebrae, as well as bruising on her heart, lungs and liver, which affected her ability to breathe. After removing her spleen, Ashley underwent brain surgery to relieve pressure caused by a blood clot. She remained in critical condition for several days as her respiratory problems continued to worsen. When conventional treatment methods failed, her medical team had to take extreme measures.
Defying the odds
"We had to use a type of ventilator that I believe we had only utilized one other time here in this hospital," said Bracken Burns Jr., DO, UF assistant professor of surgery. While Ashley's family and medical team waited for the equipment to be brought in from Orlando, they held on to hope that she would live until it arrived. "The odds were against her surviving, let alone having a good recovery."
After three weeks, Ashley began to breathe on her own, and although she was unable to speak or move anything but her eyes, she had improved enough for doctors to begin discussing rehabilitation.
"I knew that if they were going to release her…they thought she was at least going to survive," Ashley's mother, Sharon, said. "Up until then, because of her internal injuries, it was very questionable."
On July 17, Ashley was discharged to Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital after spending nearly a month at Shands Jacksonville. Four weeks later she was back home again, welcomed by neighbors lining the streets leading to her house in Glen St. Mary. Though home, she still needed assistance as she continued her recovery. Five months after the accident, Ashley took her first sip of water and was finally able to have the feeding tube removed just before Thanksgiving.
"It's funny looking at her now and trying to remember her needing help, walking around on a walker, needing to hold your arm to go around the house. And today she's fine," said her brother, Ryan.
A bright future
Today, the 23-year-old is looking forward to graduating from the University of North Florida with a degree in elementary education. Even though she still has some physical limitations, she is thankful to be able to spend time with her family and play with her young niece and nephew.
"I don't sweat the small stuff that much," Ashley said. "I realize it's not that big of a deal, so I don't get upset over some things like I would before."
Not a day goes by that she and her family are not thankful for her miraculous recovery and the team that made it possible.
"It's a second chance a lot of people don't get, and we know we're blessed and thankful to God for his mercy and the hospital and staff," Ashley's dad, Larry, said.