Juliana Glass has always had a high tolerance for pain. It’s allowed her to push through discomfort during dance competitions, cheerleading and downhill skiing.
But the day that 16-year-old Juliana wiped out while skiing at Seven Springs Mountain Resort did slow her down for a few hours.
“It was the first time I’d gone to Seven Springs,” she said. “My best friend and I were skiing in icy conditions. Snow blew into my face and I couldn’t see. I hit a bump and ended up somersaulting down the slope. That’s when I heard a pop in my left leg. More than that, I felt the pop in my left knee. I couldn’t feel my leg and wasn’t able to walk at first.”
She needed ski patrol’s help to get off the slope. Juliana, who was at Seven Springs over Valentine’s day weekend 2020 with her friend’s family, was taken to first aid. She iced her knee while the ski patrol called her mother.
“I knew Juliana handled pain better than most people,” said Jenny Glass, Juliana’s mom. “When she was 7, she cut her head deep enough that it required several staples. Since the anesthetic shot would be painful, she allowed the doctor to staple her head without anesthesia. So, when Jewels assured me that she felt okay, I left it up to her to decide whether to continue to ski.”
More than a sore knee
Juliana returned to skiing but that night, her knee started to throb.
By the time Juliana got home the next day, her knee had swelled to become “the largest knee I had ever seen in my life,” said Jenny. She took Juliana to an urgent care facility where the doctor recommended Juliana see a specialist.
A few days later, they met Dr. Zaid Khatib, sports medicine physician with Akron Children’s in Boardman. As Dr. Khatib examined her knee, he told Juliana and her mother he thought she had torn her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and possibly her meniscus. He recommended getting an X-ray and MRI. He also said Juliana might need ACL surgery.
“When Dr. Khatib told me that, my heart sank,” said Juliana, who is currently a Poland High School junior. “High school cheerleading tryouts were in late March. I was on the junior varsity squad and wanted to make the varsity squad. I was also sad because the competitive dance season was starting, too.”
A surgeon who understands athletes
When the imaging results showed a severely torn ACL and meniscus. Juliana was referred to Dr. Patrick Riley, Jr., pediatric orthopedic surgeon. According to Juliana, Dr. Riley’s explanations and easy-going mannerism helped to put her at ease. Plus, Dr. Riley, who played soccer and basketball in high school, understood how Juliana felt about sports and their importance in her life.
“For a lot of athletes, sports are an integral part of their identity,” Dr. Riley said. “When they can’t play, it’s like taking a paint brush away from an artist. Kids who are involved in team sports, that’s their physical and social time. Their teammates are their friends. Without their sport to look forward to, kids get down in the dumps and feel lost. That’s why it’s important to get them fixed up and into physical therapy. We want to help kids return as quickly as possible to what they love to do.”
In Juliana’s case, her multiple interests and sports involved a lot of twisting and jumping, activities which put strain on the ACL. Additionally, girls are at a higher risk of ACL injury, especially after they reach puberty. For female athletes, it’s especially important to learn proper techniques and exercises to help decrease their ACL injury risk.
Juliana scheduled her ACL surgery for March 3, 2020 at the Akron Children’s Hospital Beeghly campus. Dr. Riley reconstructed Juliana’s ACL, using tissue from her hamstring to replace the damaged ligament. He also repaired her left meniscus, which acts like a shock absorber for the knee.
Although Juliana’s surgery only took around an hour, rehabilitation after an ACL injury can take 8 to 12 months. As Juliana recuperated after surgery and waited to start physical therapy, the pandemic caused widespread shutdowns.
“I tore my ACL at a perfect time,” she said. “COVID-19 was taking off, which postponed cheerleading tryouts and cancelled dance season.”
As soon as she could, Juliana started physical therapy. Periodically, she also saw Dr. Riley for follow-up assessments.
“Juliana was ahead of her recovery schedule a lot of the time,” Dr. Riley said. “Her positive attitude, level of dedication and compliance in doing the things required to get well helped her progress quickly.”
In August 2020, Juliana tried out for cheerleading and made the varsity squad. In December 2020, Dr. Riley cleared her to return to all her activities, including skiing.
Returning to the ‘scene of the crime’
“We know that athletes typically go back to what I call, ‘the scene of the crime,’ and without the surgery and rehab, there are risks,” Dr. Riley said.
In early January, Juliana went skiing again with her friends. She said she didn’t know how scared she was until after she completed her first run.
“I’m a pretty risky skier and in the past would go all out,” she said. “For now, though, I’m taking it easy.”
Juliana has no hesitation about cheerleading or competitive dance, however.
“I’m doing everything I did before and am back to tumbling and jumping in cheerleading,” she said. “I’m looking forward to competing again in national dance competitions, too.”