When Emily Feuerborn suffered a serious LCL tear playing soccer, it resulted in more than a physical injury to her knee. It turned her world upside down, damaging her confidence in her ability to play again. Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine is helping her recover physically, as well as mentally, with help from Becky Wiseman, LSCSW, a licensed clinical social worker.
For 16-year-old Emily Feuerborn, soccer was life. She had played club and school soccer for as long as she could remember, and she loved it. She ate, slept and breathed soccer.
But on Jan. 26, 2019, all that changed.
“I was playing center back and I was running toward my goal when the goalie came out to slide and get the ball,” Emily said. “As she did, she slid into me, knocking my legs out from under me.”
The hit sent Emily flying. Her right leg twisted in the opposite direction of her body, and as she flipped over the goalie, she could feel something tear in her right knee.
“I felt it the moment it happened,” Emily said. “When I hit the ground I curled up in a ball on the field screaming. My parents came running out and my dad carried me off the field. It was the worst pain I had ever felt in my life.”
Though Emily rested her knee that weekend, by Monday it wasn’t any better. “My mom called Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine and I came here the next day.” An MRI confirmed that Emily had a posterior lateral corner injury with an isolated complete lateral collateral ligament, or LCL, tear.
The LCL runs along the outside of the knee joint, from the outside of the bottom of the thighbone, or femur, to the top of the lower-leg bone, or fibula. The LCL helps keep the knee joint stable, especially the outer part of the joint.
Recovering physically and psychologically
After attempting to manage the injury through rehab, Emily went to consult with Kevin Latz, MD, pediatric orthopedic surgeon and Chief, Sports Medicine at Children’s Mercy Kansas City. Dr. Latz recommended surgery to repair Emily’s torn LCL, but in addition to rehabilitation with Kayla Greiner, PT, DPT, OCS, physical therapist at Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine Village West, he also suggested she see Becky Wiseman, LSCSW. Becky is a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in working with student-athletes, helping them recover psychologically from injury.
Becky understands that student-athletes are more than just a position on a team. They are trying to balance the demands of their sport along with their academic, family and social commitments. Sometimes, the pressure is intense, especially when an injury means unexpected time on the sidelines.
Though not every patient needs Becky’s services, she helps patients referred to her stay positive and focused during their rehabilitation and recovery. Plus, Becky is physically located at the Village West facility where she has access to the physicians and therapists involved in patient care.
“I think it’s really important that I’m here at Village West,” Becky said. “Integrating the mental health aspect of a student-athlete’s recovery into their overall care plan makes it much more convenient for patients and families, and for the doctors and therapists to work as a team.”
Becky joined the Sports Medicine Center after a decade-long career in the public school system, and spending five years in private practice.
“I’ve worked with a lot of student-athletes throughout my career, plus I have two kids who play soccer and a husband who coaches,” she said. “I operate within the world of sports myself, so I know what our patients and families are going through.”
Typically, Becky sees patients in conjunction with their physical therapy or physician visits. Parents usually attend the first therapy session, then she works one-on-one with the student-athlete in following meetings.
A different perspective
After their initial session together, Becky described Emily as driven with high expectations for herself.
“Emily had never been through anything like this though,” Becky said. “She had a pretty severe injury with a long recovery in front of her, and she was mad—mad about the injury, mad about the pain and mad at the length of time she was going to be out of her sport.”
“Being referred to Becky really gave me someone who wasn’t involved in the situation to talk to,” Emily said. “She gave me that outsider point of view. Becky is someone who professionally has worked with lots of athletes who have been injured, and knows what to expect during recovery.”
Most importantly, Becky helped Emily to adjust mentally to her injury. “There can be a lot of social issues that come up when a highly competitive athlete is injured,” Becky said.
“Teammates and friends may try to be understanding, but until you go through something like this, you don’t know what it’s like to have to sit on the sidelines while your friends play the sport you love.”
Emily agreed. At one point, she attended an out-of-town soccer match to support her team, but when a teammate took a hit similar to the one that caused her injury, she had a physical reaction. “I got sick. I just couldn’t watch it. All those memories came flooding back.”
Becky is helping her patient understand that it’s highly unlikely something similar could happen to her again, but those memories are tough to forget.
In their work together, Becky has helped Emily to use her time away from soccer for self-discovery. “We talk about who we are as a person on a typical day, on a great day, on a stressful day, and how a situation such as this doesn’t always bring out the best in us,” Becky said.
She’s also helped Emily understand that not everyone’s body heals at the same rate, especially when the injury is as severe as hers.
“Emily had a timeline in mind for when she thought she should be finished with rehab and back on the field,” Becky said. “It’s been frustrating for her because her body hasn’t cooperated, and the process is taking longer than she thought it should.”
In the meantime, Becky has helped her focus on what’s most important in life. “We try to find value in this time so that when Emily returns to play, she doesn’t feel like she is just walking back in with the same set of tools, but that ultimately, she is a happy, healthy player and a more well-rounded person.”
Preparing to return to play
Physically, Emily is continuing to work with Kayla to rehab her knee, and since surgery, she’s made good progress. “We have used the pools, alter-G, and gym space and equipment at Village West to improve the control of Emily’s right leg, which has also improved her overall confidence in her knee to get back to sports,” Kayla said.
Recently, Emily began running and doing some cone work to get back into playing form. “She’s probably about 80 to 85 percent there,” Kayla said. “Before she can be released to return to play she’ll undergo BioDex testing to be certain she’s ready to compete. Our goal is February!”
Emily’s psychological therapy is going well, too.
“Before the injury, I used the excuse that I couldn’t participate in other activities because I had soccer,” Emily said. “I didn’t realize what a deep hole I had dug for myself. Without having Becky as a resource I probably would not have been able to pull myself out of it.
“But Becky has helped me realize there are different things I can be doing with my time. I have gotten a lot more involved in school and clubs. I have a class in broadcasting that I really enjoy. I got a job, and I am a lot busier. Things feel much more balanced.”
As Emily approaches full recovery, she and Becky will explore the concern that she could be injured again when she returns to soccer.
“We’ll work to instill the belief that Emily can keep her body safe, and that not every game will result in injury,” Becky said. “But ultimately, it will be her decision whether she returns to the playing field.”
Right now, that’s Emily’s goal—to make a complete recovery and return to play for her senior year of high school, and if all goes well, maybe even play in college.
“I’m so grateful for everything Becky, Kayla and Dr. Latz have done for me,” Emily said. “Coming to the Sports Medicine Center at Village West has been great—I’ve had all the resources I needed in one location.
“And working with Becky has been wonderful,” Emily said. “She’s a great person. I don’t see her as my therapist. I see her as one of my friends here.”
Becky agrees and adds, “Emily is a driven, high-achieving student-athlete, but through this process, she’s learned there’s more to life than soccer. Whatever she decides to do, I know she’ll do it beautifully.