Student Athlete’s Comeback from ACL Reconstruction

Student athlete Amelia Varela, 17, recalls the moment earlier this year when she injured her knee and tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

“I was playing softball and collided with one of my teammates,” she said. “I felt the pop right away.”

(Video: The Baptist Health News Team hears from Amelia Varela and John Zvijac, M.D., orthopedic surgeon at Miami Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Institute, about her ACL reconstruction. Video by George Carvalho) 

Amelia’s family knew where to take her to receive expert sports medicine treatment.

“I came to Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute because it was highly recommended by one of my friends who had a previous ACL surgery with Dr. Zvijac,” she said.

“Amelia tore the anterior cruciate ligament, which is the middle ligament in the knee,” explains John Zvijac, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon with Miami Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Institute. “What we do is we reconstitute the ligament, rebuild it, and in doing so, this restabilizes the joint. Combined with rehabilitation, strengthening of the musculature and reeducation of the knee, the patient is able to go back and return to their sport.”

Amelia’s rehabilitation process began a week after the surgery. Bonnie Akerman, physical therapist at Miami Orthopedic & Sports Medicine, worked with Amelia to restore the function in her knee.

“Rehabilitation starts off very slow, focusing on regaining the range of motion and getting the swelling down,” Ms. Akerman said. “We start with very simple exercises with the patient lying down on a table and then progress to standing movements and eventually use weight machines.

Today, Amelia is back in action and looking forward to competing in college softball.

“I’m almost at 100 percent,” she said. “I finally feel like I’m back to how I was before.”

Dr. Zvijac is also extremely pleased with Amelia’s progress.

“Having treated many of these types of ACL injuries over the last couple of decades with reconstruction, I knew Amelia was going to have a high chance of success returning to her sport,” he said. “I’m very happy that she’s going back to playing and even at the higher collegiate level, which is just outstanding.”

The Baptist Health News Team spoke with Amelia and Dr. Zvijac about her surgery and rehabilitation. Watch the video now.


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