The Slesar teenagers of Jackson have given new meaning to sibling rivalry. Last winter, Abby Slesar, then 16, and her brother Noah, 17 at the time, each tore their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of their left knee within a two-week period.
"I couldn't believe it," Says their mom, Kathy. ''Abby's injury happened during gymnastics practice at West Bend High School.
She was recovering from surgery when Noah came home limping from a soccer game.
Abby's injury occurred during the landing of an uneven bars routine.
''She didn't quite finish her rotation before planting her foot," explains her dad, Paul. ''The athletic trainer knew something was wrong right away and was quick to recommend Dr. Pifel and Aurora HeaIth Care for treatment."
Eric Pifel, MD is an orthopedic surgeon who routinely travels from his primary practice in Milwaukee to see patients closer to home at the Aurora Health Centers in Hartford and West Bend. A fellowship-trained sports medicine specialist, Dr. Pifel is highly skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of knee injuries.
"An ACL tear is a disruption of one of the major stabilizing ligaments of the knee," says Dr. Pifel. "It's a fairly common injury among athletes in sports involving aggressive turning such as soccer and basketball - so common in fact that about 100,000 ACLs are reconstructed every year in the U.S. In my practice, I do at least one or two every week."
Surgery to reconstruct the ligament isn't the only treatment for ACL tears - bracing and altering activities are other options - but when athletes have a desire to return to competitive sports, it is the best route to take. "Treatment depends on the patient's age, activity level and future demands," says Dr. Pifel. Once the ligament is torn, it doesn't heal and will remain loose.
Non-surgical rehabilitation can be the treatment of choice if you're willing to give up certain high-risk sports and if your knee is stable during routine daily activities. Noah and Abby, however, have had a passion for sports since they were preschoolers. The sooner they could return to action, the better. Abby opted for surgery right away. Noah had his a few days after his senior prom.
During ACL reconstruction, the damaged ligament is replaced with another tendon (graft) from the patient's own body, typically from the inside of the lower thigh. In both Abby's and Noah's cases, Dr. Pifel performed ACL reconstruction as an outpatient, arthroscopically-assisted procedure at Aurora Medical Center in Hartford. Using an arthroscope - a thin instrument equipped with a small camera - allows for smaller incisions and quicker recoveries than with open knee surgery. Following surgery, the Slesars participated in several months of physical therapy at the Aurora Rehabilitation Center in West Bend.
"To say that we enjoyed physical therapy wouldn't really be too far off the mark," says Noah, now a student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. "It was challenging, to be sure, but the therapists made it enjoyable."
Since their completion of rehabilitation, both of the Slesars have returned to the sports they love. Noah plays intramural soccer, basketball and tennis at college while Abby competed in high school tennis and gymnastics and is now off to a great start in her senior year of track at West Bend High School. She has taken first place in pole vaulting in three of her last five meets, and at the recent indoor track championship, she placed fourth in state in her event.
"You need good knees for pole vaulting," says Abby. "When I jump, I actually take off on my bad knee and it feels pretty strong. I feel really good about where I'm at right now. I can't say enough about Dr. Pifel and the physical therapists for helping me get to this point."
"We all feel very fortunate to have such wonderful medical treatment available right here in town," agrees Abby's mom. "When this all first happened, some people suggested that we go to Milwaukee for treatment. We didn't really have to think too hard about that. Everything we needed was in Washington County."
For more information about orthopedic services in Washington County or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Pifel at the Aurora Health Center in Hartford, call 262-670-4000 or West Bend, call 262-338-1123.