Torn ACL: Jameel’s Story
Playing high school varsity football takes hard work and dedication, but playing injured is another story all together. That’s 18-year-old Jameel Burns’ story.
Jameel was a two-sport athlete for most of his career at Park Hill High School—running the 110-meter hurdles and playing outside linebacker for the Trojans.
“My freshman year at Park Hill, I was focused on track,” Jameel said. “But the varsity track coach was also the freshman football coach. He convinced me to come out for football. I stuck with it and built a bond with my coaches and teammates. I really started caring about it.”
Jameel’s sophomore year, he moved up from JV to varsity, and he kept running track. By his junior year, the talented athlete seemed destined to play football at the college level, then a random accident at a track meet appeared to sideline his plans.
“I was running the 110 hurdles when the guy in the lane next to me tripped over his hurdle, causing it to fall into my lane,” Jameel described. “I fell over it, and when I did, my right knee cap popped out. That was the worst pain I’ve ever had. My coach had to carry me off the track and over to the (athletic) trainer, and he popped my knee cap back in.”
The next day, Jameel’s mom took him to Children’s Mercy Kansas City where he was referred to the Children’s Mercy pediatric orthopedic surgery department, and Nick Wedel, DPT, physical therapist at Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine Village West.
“My surgeon diagnosed me with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus tear,” Jameel said. “It was painful, but I wanted to keep playing if possible. I didn’t want to miss my senior year of football.”
Don’t want to miss a thing!
The Sports Medicine Center team didn’t want their patient to miss his senior football season either, but playing injured can be tricky, and isn’t something most people can do.
But Jameel isn’t most people.
“Jameel is one of the strongest athletes I have ever worked with,” Nick said. “With the timing of his injury, if he had had surgery when it happened, he would have missed out on the majority of his senior football season.”
Ultimately, Jameel and his parents decided to postpone surgery until he finished his senior football season. That meant it was Nick’s job to help him get back into playing form in time to take to the field.
“Jameel has a good work ethic and he’s smart,” Nick said. “To play safely with an ACL tear, we focused on building his strength back up in his right leg, and improving his range of motion.”
To do that, Nick used traditional physical therapy, combined with blood flow restriction, or BFR therapy, and the anti-gravity, or Alter G, treadmill at Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine at Village West, a 13,000-square-foot gymnasium with state-of-the-art equipment.
Blood flow restriction training, or BFR, involves wrapping a restrictive device, similar to a large blood pressure cuff, around a limb during different forms of training and movement. Studies show BFR increases muscle growth when combined with low-load lifting.
The Alter G treadmill uses NASA-developed technology to unweight patients, which reduces impact on the joints while walking or running during rehab.
“Jameel did well with the Alter G,” Nick said. “It helped us get him running quickly on solid ground. As he progressed, we worked more on agility and movements specific to his position as an outside linebacker, like running, cutting and changing directions.”
After twice-weekly sessions with Nick, and a commitment to also work out at home, Jameel was almost ready to play as summer 2019 came to a close. He just needed to pass a few tests.
“Even though he was injured, Jameel’s BioDex results were better than most,” Nick said. BioDex is a multi-joint isokinetic machine that provides physicians and their patients valuable information about strength deficits and muscle imbalances that may predispose a particular joint to further injury before surgery and after rehabilitation.
With additional functional jumping and sprinting/cutting testing, Jameel proved to Nick and the Sports Medicine team that he was ready to play, and play he did.
“I had to wear a brace for games and practices,” Jameel said. “I pushed through it. It wasn’t just about my knee hurting. I felt like if I didn’t play, I would be letting my whole team down.”
In the end, Jameel started in about 80 to 85% of the team’s games. “The coaches were very strategic about when they played me,” he said. Though the Trojans had a winning season, they lost in the first round of the state playoffs, and Jameel took the next step on the road to a complete recovery.
In addition to wrapping up his senior football season, Jameel also graduated high school at the end of the winter semester. Then, his ACL was operated on at Children’s Mercy Dec. 27, 2019 in an outpatient surgery.
Following successful reconstructive surgery, Jameel returned to Village West to begin working with Nick again in early 2020. With school over, Jameel concentrated on his rehab, and his future.
“I had considered trying to walk on at Arizona State,” Jameel said, “so Nick and I rehabbed my knee as if that was my goal.”
Nick agreed. “At the beginning, our main goal was to try to get Jameel back to football because that was the highest stress activity he would be doing.”
But shortly after the two began Jameel’s rehab, stay-at-home orders associated with the COVID-19 pandemic caused Nick and Jameel to get creative with his therapy and turn to telemedicine.
“We did several rehab sessions virtually,” Nick said. “Jameel had some workout equipment at home, but nothing like we have at Village West. I was concerned that might slow him down, but he did a good job of keeping up the pace until we could get back to in-person sessions.”
Changing the game plan
Rehabilitating his knee in the midst of a pandemic also gave Jameel time to think hard about his future, and though he loves football, he knows it’s not what he wants to do as a career.
“I’ve decided I want to become a commercial pilot and fly airplanes,” Jameel said. To realize his dream, Jameel applied for and was accepted at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. He’s even been taking private flying lessons to earn his pilot’s license.
And while he may try to play football at the academy, he’s more concerned with making sure his knee holds up well during strenuous basic training.
“Now that Jameel is going to the Air Force Academy, I am trying to pivot his rehab, working on his knee being able to absorb a hard impact, for example, if he is parachuting from a plane,” Nick explained. “I want to pay attention to how he lands and absorbs that shock.”
The VertiMax equipment at Village West may help with that. The VertiMax is a small platform with cords similar to bungees attached to a belt that Jameel can wear around his waist.
The equipment helps improve his jumping ability by providing resistance as he jumps up. The cords increase the rate of his descent, challenging his ability to control the impact of the landing while also challenging his balance with the external forces of the cords.
Wrapping rehab up
As his summer comes to an end, Jameel says he wouldn’t be where he is now without Dr. Paccica and Nick.
“The entire Sports Medicine Center team understood how much it meant to me to be able to play my senior year,” Jameel said.
Nick has gotten to know his patient well after working with him off and on for more than a year.
“Jameel has overcome a lot of adversity with an injury in a secondary sport, then going on to play an entire season injured in a difficult position on the football field prior to surgery,” Nick said.
After surgery, Jameel stayed motivated even though he was at home during COVID. Now he’s fine tuning his knee to make sure his strength is where it should be before he heads off to the academy.
“Jameel has a good work ethic,” Nick said. “He’s never complained about his rehab, and he’s always done as I asked.”
“I loved working with Nick,” Jameel said. “He is a cool guy to be around and he pushes me. He knew what I was comfortable with. I give him all the credit for having me do physical therapy before surgery so that I was strong enough to play. I appreciate him a lot.
“Nick and I had a good relationship because we communicated with each other,” Jameel added. “He understood where I was coming from. I didn’t feel like Nick was just helping another kid through physical therapy. I felt like he actually cared about me as a person, that he wanted to see me be successful.
“The entire team with sports medicine knew how much it meant to me to be out on the field playing on Friday nights, and they helped me make that happen. That really sticks with me.”
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