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Play stopped. The crowd quieted. Karli Kerzman, #43, sat on the shiny gymnasium floor in Hawley, Minn., gripping her right knee.

“I went in for a layup and heard a pop,” recalls the guard with the Detroit Lakes, Minn., High School Lakers. “I knew something was wrong.”

Images flashed through her mind: three teammates with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. She knew it was a common injury, particularly among female athletes, and it required a lengthy, difficult recovery. Was she next?

Support from all corners

Help arrived quickly. “Coach Mike Hoganson came out and walked me off the floor, then Brenda Muckenhirn came over and checked my knee out. That helped me feel a lot more calm,” says Karli. A teammate’s mom, Brenda is also a Sanford physical therapist.

Next on the scene: Dr. Thomas Seaworth, team doctor and family medicine physician from Sanford Health Detroit Lakes Clinic. His initial assessment of Karli’s injury led to an MRI -- an advanced imaging test.

The next day Karli and her parents got the difficult news: a complete tear of the ACL. It would require surgery and months of rehabilitation.

“I was pretty upset,” says Karli, then a sophomore. “I’d been playing a lot of varsity minutes that year and getting injured right before the playoffs was a bummer.”

Surgeon sets the tone

Four days later Karli met Dr. Matthew Friederichs, orthopedic surgeon from Sanford Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Fargo. She already knew his reputation as an athlete’s surgeon, but his abilities as a “coach” surprised her.

“He made me feel really good about the whole process -- and confident,” says Karli.

Her parents recognized the difference, too. Says her mom, Renee: “He understands how an athlete thinks -- how an athlete likes to get it done now.” Adds her dad, John: “Dr. Friederichs laid out the timeline, goals and expectations. He kept reminding Karli to respect healing time. He also reminded her she’s a major part of the recovery after surgery. Dr. Friederichs gave Karli something to focus on other than the injury.”

Successful ACL surgery took place in March 2011. Using minimally invasive techniques that left barely noticeable scars, Dr. Friederichs created a new ligament from Karli’s own hamstring. She was able to go home the same day.

“I was excited to begin working towards recovery,” says Karli.M

Steady improvement with Physical Therapy

Though some may have been daunted, Karli was inspired by Dr. Friederichs’ preview of rehabilitation.

“I liked knowing this wasn’t a sit-back-and-let-it-heal sort of thing,” she says. “There’d be a lot of hard work. I was happy about that.”

Physical Therapy began two days after surgery. Karli participated in twice-a-week sessions with Brenda, plus exercised on her own three times a day, 25 minutes a time.

“It was pretty consuming, but it paid off,” says Karli, who was off crutches in two weeks.

“My knee felt great and I just kept improving. I never would’ve been able to safely get there without Brenda. She made sure I was careful,” says Karli. “I really wanted to push myself, but if I pushed too hard I could get hurt again. Brenda helped me balance that.”

Advancing with POWER

After three months of physical therapy, Al Kraft picked up the ball. An exercise physiologist at Sanford POWER Center in Fargo, he introduced a level of athletic training Karli never expected.

“He pushed me and challenged me in lots of ways. It was super fun. Those workouts were the bright spot of my week,” she says. With Al’s help, Karli sweated her way through plyometrics, ladder exercises, treadmill workouts and more. She safely upped her speed, strength, flexibility, endurance, coordination and agility -- keys to success in enhanced athletic performance.

“A big thing for me was when I could jump-shoot again,” says Karli. “Al didn’t just guess at the answer. He got on the phone and talked to Dr. Friederichs. It helped so much to have everyone on same page, talking to each other and working together. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m a better basketball player today because of my ACL injury. Al definitely took my game to a new level.”

Stumbling block to stepping stone

In November 2011 Dr. Friederichs cleared Karli to play basketball. And the first game of the season?

“We won! It was a blast to be out there playing with everyone again,” says Karli, now a junior with college basketball aspirations. She has a career dream, too -- and it was inspired by her rehab experience.

“I love science, especially biology. I’d like to work with athletes coming back from injuries. I know exactly what it’s like,” she says. “I learned that setbacks aren’t always stumbling blocks. And with the right help, you can even turn them into stepping stones.”

Posted Date: March 2012