Skating to Sucess

Athlete triumphs with knee surgery

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Aaron Taylor is a 16 year-old honors student. Living well with diabetes for over a decade, he's been competing in national roller skating invitationals since he was seven. After taking home many national trophies, he's hoping to compete on the 2013 Olympic-level world team in Taipei, Taiwan.

Aaron's dreams were almost cut short by a knee condition that could have ended his skating career forever. But thanks to Dr. Mark Wichman of Aurora Advanced Orthopedics, Aaron's now skating closer and closer to international success with a healthy, well-healed knee.

"As the Milwaukee Admirals team physician for the past ten years, I've worked with several ice skating injuries. I hadn't really worked with a competitive roller skater. They're just not out there," said Dr. Mark Wichman. "Roller skating is more like dancing. It's a very different activity."

Prior to treatment, Aaron felt like his knee weakened to the point of collapse while turning corners, climbing stairs or quickly changing direction. He could hear his knee popping and moving as the patella shifted. He experienced shooting pain during turns. As a competitive skater, these were troubling symptoms. By the time Aaron met with Dr. Wichman, he truly felt his knee was "giving out."

Aaron's first course of treatment included using a knee brace, attending physical therapy and taking ibuprofen to manage pain. His symptoms are commonly seen among soccer, football and basketball players, and most athletes respond well to therapy with no further need for surgery.

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"He made good progress," said Dr. Wichman. "And we thought that he'd be good to go. It seemed to be a one-and-done – but it wasn't."

Upon further examination, a MRI scan revealed both good news and bad news. Although his cartilage was healthy, and there were no ACL or meniscus issues, Aaron's knee ligaments needed immediate attention. While one ligament had shrunk, another had overextended to the breaking point.

"Our conservative approach was no longer effective," said Dr. Wichman. "It was time to be innovative."

Typical surgeries for Aaron's condition would involve an open incision, transferring or cutting bone, or cutting and tightening tendons. These would involve a fair amount of post-surgical pain, recovery time and a delayed return to physical activity. For an active 16 year old involved in national and international athletic competitions, these were not acceptable terms and conditions. As an insulin-dependent diabetic, Aaron also had a higher risk of infection and a slower rate of healing.

For all of these reasons, Dr. Wichman chose an innovative arthroscopic procedure utilizing techniques sometimes seen in the shoulder. This surgical technique involves inflating the joint with a saline solution, making small incisions and repairing the knee with specialized instruments while viewing the procedure on video monitors. He is able to repair the structures without opening the joint. "We've seen tremendous advances in video technology in recent years," said Dr. Wichman. "Applying that same technology to health care is creating new options for patients."

On May 25, 2012, Aaron went into surgery and came out with a kneecap that no longer came out of place. Two months later, he took second place in a national roller skating competition.

"Most people are off for six months after this type of surgery," said Aaron. "I was only off for two. With nationals approaching, I had to get back to skating. My skating partner drives in from Columbia, Missouri every weekend to practice for competitions. As a skater, you're trained to put your partner first. I would have felt terrible to let her down."

"Aaron healed so well, so fast. It was amazing," said Dr. Wichman. "I wasn't surprised that he returned to skating sooner than I had recommended. When working with athletes, you have to recognize their drive to get back into the game. You need to accommodate their passion."

"Dr. Wichman chose the best surgery possible for me," said Aaron. "Traditional surgery would have put me out of commission for an entire season. My knees no longer match, but I'm a much stronger skater, I can run faster than before, and I'm continuing to gain strength. Many people are still in therapy months after surgery, walking on crutches with a limp. I have no limp at all."

Aaron is still in therapy to enhance the stability of his knee. Aside from competing in Taiwan next year, his future goals include attending UW-Parkside, studying biology and becoming a diabetes educator and endocrinologist. But most importantly, he wants to educate athletes on the importance of seeking treatment early.

"Delaying care can have serious consequences," said Aaron. "It's better to be healing than not being able to participate in your sport ever again. A skater in my club put off surgery for two years, lost tissue and is now barely walking.

"That person will never skate again. And it could have happened to me."

At Aurora Health Care, we offer you one of the largest, most experienced groups of orthopedic specialists in Wisconsin. Our experts have advanced training in orthopedic services, bringing you world-class care. Learn more about our award-winning programs at our website.