September 28, 2018
It was the last game of the season, and Avion Jones was running the ball on the opponent's turf. A 6-foot, 220-pound freshman linebacker for Blue Valley High School, Avion was tackled by two players from the opposing team when he felt a pop in his right knee.
"It wasn't a terrible pain, but something definitely didn't feel right," he recalls. After Avion limped to the sidelines, the home team's physician looked at his knee but couldn't make a definitive diagnosis. "I went home and put ice on it, but it was worse the next day, so I went to see Caitlin," he says.
Team treatment for players
Caitlin Truhe is an athletic trainer for The University of Kansas Health System. She works full-time with coaches and student athletes at Blue Valley High School, where she attends practices and home sporting events as well as away games with the varsity football team. She is part of the Sports Medicine and Performance Center team at the health system, which provides certified athletic trainers to 13 area high schools and 14 middle schools. These athletic trainers help student athletes train and prevent injuries. They also provide sports injury evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation.
"Avion came into my athletic training room the day after the game, and I could tell immediately that his ACL wasn't testing normally," Caitlin says, referring to Avion's anterior cruciate ligament, which runs diagonally across the middle of the knee and helps provide rotational stability. ACL sprains and tears are among the most common athletic knee injuries.
Caitlin's first call was to Avion's mother, Akema Brown, to share her findings and recommendations for a follow-up evaluation. Her second call was to Lucas Thompson, MD, a primary care sports medicine physician at The University of Kansas Health System Sports Medicine and Performance Center. "We have really good communication with our physicians. And easy and quick access to care is a big benefit for our student athletes," Caitlin says.
Same care as the pros
Just 2 days after his knee injury, Avion went to see Dr. Thompson at the Sports Medicine and Performance Center, located at the Truman Sports Complex near Arrowhead Stadium. It's the same facility where Dr. Thompson cares for Avion's professional football role models, the Kansas City Chiefs.
"With our team approach, we treat our high school athletes just like we treat the pros," Dr. Thompson says. "We have relationships with our athletic trainers, surgeons and physical therapists. We work very closely together, no matter what team our patients play for."
Agreeing with Caitlin's concerns, Dr. Thompson ordered an MRI and confirmed that Avion's ACL was torn. The treatment required surgery, so Avion's next appointment was with Paul Schroeppel, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine expert with The University of Kansas Health System. Dr. Schroeppel is also head orthopedic surgeon for the Kansas City Chiefs.
"For a young athlete, surgery is the treatment of choice," he says. "There are various surgical approaches. In Avion's case, we grafted a portion of his hamstring into his knee." The surgical technique is similar to the one Dr. Schroeppel uses for professional athletes, differing slightly to account for Avion's continued growth.
Last fall, Avion underwent outpatient surgery and began a lengthy rehabilitation. "He was a little frustrated right after the surgery," Avion's mother, Akema, notes. "But he worked hard, even though the first few weeks of physical therapy were really tough."
Back in the game
For 7 months, Avion worked with Heather Goist Foley, a physical therapist with the Sports Medicine and Performance Center, to slowly regain range of motion, strength and stability in his knee. His dedication to his own rehabilitation inspired Caitlin.
"A lot of freshman who get hurt don't see rehab as a priority – they think they'll just get better without any extra effort," Caitlin says. "But from the beginning, Avion took ownership of his injury and his rehab. He did his physical therapy. He did weight training. He was accountable and on time for appointments. And now he's back on the field and ready to play, and that's due in large part to his desire to succeed."
Avion is modest when asked about his commitment to getting back on the field. "I just did what I had to do to get better so I can play," he says. With dreams of a possible pro football career – or a career in sports medicine if football doesn't work out – Avion is ready for another season under the lights.