Shriners Children's Providers Draw Inspiration From Time as Young Athletes
Ben Wilson, M.D., knows what it is like to be sidelined by a sports injury. As a high school- and college-level athlete, he sustained shoulder and wrist injuries that eventually required surgery. Dr. Wilson uses these experiences with injuries as a young athlete to amplify his care for patients as an orthopedic surgeon at Shriners Children’s Lexington.
“I think being an athlete myself helps me relate to my patients,” Dr. Wilson said. “I think a lot of times when an athlete comes in with an injury, it’s the first time they’ve been in a medical setting. They’ve gone from having full control and being able to do anything they want to do with their bodies, and now it’s failed them somehow. I think that’s a huge deal for those kids.”
Dr. Wilson is one of many individuals providing care for children with sports injuries at Shriners Children’s locations across the globe, and just like Dr. Wilson, many of these providers can relate directly to their patients’ experiences.
Kelsey Davidson, M.D., a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Shriners Children’s Chicago, was a competitive figure skater, but also enjoyed dancing jazz and ballet, and cross-country skiing with her family while growing up. During her figure skating career, Dr. Davidson went through two periods in which she needed to take time off from skating to treat spondylolysis, a stress fracture in the spine.
“I remember the disappointment of not being able to skate and compete during that time, but I found it helpful to use the extra free time as an opportunity to get stronger and come back a better skater than before,” she said.
Today, Dr. Davidson reflects on those experiences as she provides care for other injured athletes. She recalls still being at the skating rink, watching her friends perform and practice, wishing she could be back on the ice.
“I try to use these experiences to empathize with my patients when I can see how sad they are having to deal with an injury taking them away from their sport,” she said. “I encourage them to stay involved in the sport and with their friends during this time so they don’t feel the extra loss of friendship and identity.”
Rebecca Rouse, a physical therapist at Shriners Children’s Twin Cities, grew up playing football with the boys at recess, and eventually focused on soccer, basketball and softball in high school. She got her first glance into the medical field with her own sports injuries and recalls the frustration surrounding being sidelined.
“I was very injury prone as an athlete and had multiple bouts of physical therapy for various issues,” she said. “It was always frustrating to be injured because you never wanted to miss out on playing and you never wanted to feel like you were letting your team down. I think that having experienced my own injuries as an athlete helps me to be empathetic to my patients who are trying to get back to their sport because I know how frustrating that can be and it allows me to lend my personal experience as well so that they know they are not alone in their recovery.”
Rouse said being able to relate with her patients actually enhances her care.
“I think remembering how big an injury can seem to a patient is also an important factor in making sure that I am doing my best to provide the most appropriate treatment so that they can get back to their sport as quickly as possible,” she said.
Christine Betancourt, a physician assistant (PA) at Shriners Children's Erie also got her first exposure to the medical field with an injury as a dancer.
"I had multiple orthopedic injuries while dancing," Betancourt said. "In college, I injured my knee and it was my first time meeting a PA. It opened my eyes to that field and made me decide that is what I wanted to do."
Allyce Fisk, a physician assistant at Shriners Children’s Twin Cities, knows first-hand how critical it is to have an experienced medical team helping you recover from sports injuries. She grew up playing soccer, hockey and lacrosse, and had multiple injuries.
“Once you have experienced an injury or pain while participating in sporting activities, you know how important it is to have a medical team that understands your desire to return to sports and that can support you to the fullest in getting back to full strength,” Fisk said. “I found it hard to be on the sidelines during my favorite sport season and it’s scary to not know how your body will feel when you get back to your sport. Breaking my leg prompted my interest in bones and how they heal, and I think that helps in being able to explain to patients what to expect when healing from a fracture.”
Betancourt agreed. "Given my experiences as a young athlete facing injuries, I can put myself in the shoes of my patients," she said. "I know what it is like to deal with the emotions of not being able to do what you love most. There is a mental recovery that needs to happen in addition to the physical."
The medical teams at Shriners Children’s are especially attuned to an athlete’s concerns, as well as the differences between an adult athlete’s body and that of a young, still-growing athlete. They work as a team to get them back in competing shape.
“Here at Shriners, we have a whole team, from physicians, PAs and nurse practitioners to our physical therapists, motion analysis center, radiology and casting,” Dr. Wilson said. “We’re familiar with what makes the pediatric athlete different than the adult athlete, and there are some pretty distinct differences there. We understand what the athlete is experiencing and how we can get them safely back to the sport they love.”
Sports can be incredibly important in building social interaction, learning how to work with others and learning to have fun while moving your body, Fisk said. She finds similar benefits to being part of the sports medicine team at Shriners Children’s.
“Playing a team sport is not dissimilar to working at Shriners Children’s, where we have multiple departments that collaborate in patient care and when we all work together well, we can provide exceptional care to our patients, which is a win,” she said.
The biggest win, though, is helping a patient return to the court, to the field, to the dance floor, or whatever activity that brings them joy.
“I love what I do because I love seeing the spark in a patient’s eyes when I say they can return to their sport,” Dr. Wilson said. “That’s awesome to me because I know what that’s like. I know how much time and effort they’ve put into getting back to that point.”
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