By Lindsey Christie, Knee1 Staff
Ten months ago, Knee1.com broadcast a live ACL repair from the Hospital for Special Surgery. The patient, a young woman named Christine Jurczak, recently spoke with Knee1 and shared the story behind her tremendous recovery. Cautious and reserved in her activities for almost five years, Jurczak is back on track, engaged in numerous physical activities, and loving life.
At age 14, Jurczak felt the first twinge of pain in what would become a series of debilitating knee injuries. It all started as she lazed on a dock enjoying the summer’s rays dangling her strong, youthful legs in the water below. When she tried to stand, she felt her left knee give way and knew instantly that something was wrong. A trip to the doctor confirmed that she had sustained a sprain. As a result of the injury, Jurczak spent the rest of the summer in an ace bandage.
In the fall of that same year, 1993, Jurczak went to see an orthopaedic surgeon to discuss the nagging pain she still felt in her knee. An MRI revealed that she had done more than sprain her knee; she had also torn her meniscal cartilage. She underwent corrective surgery September 9th.
Some of the first words Jurczak heard from her surgeon after the procedure were, “You shouldn’t play sports,” a crushing statement for a young woman who played on her school’s soccer, basketball, and track teams. However, Jurczak was determined to return to her sports and was diligent about following her doctor’s orders. She spent the next eight weeks wheeling herself around in a wheelchair so that her knee could heal.
By March, Jurczak was practicing with the girls’ varsity soccer team and looking forward to the rest of the season. While running down the field, during the last game of her sophomore year, the unthinkable happened. She didn’t trip, she didn’t collide with anyone, her knee simply gave out on her and she went down again. Devastated, Jurczak limped off the field.
Ironically, her second surgery was scheduled for September 9th, 1994, exactly one year to the day from her previous surgery. This time, Jurczak’s surgeon used thermal shrinkage to try and repair her stretched ACL. And this time, Jurczak knew she probably wouldn’t be returning to the fields.
Jurczak gave up soccer, basketball, and track and turned instead to coaching and sailing. She soon found that she had a knack and a passion for sailing and for the next five years she concentrated on skippering boats and winning races. She rarely thought about her knee, except when she was slipping her DonJoy brace on for extra support.
The summer of 1999 found Jurczak preparing for her senior year at Hobart and William Smith College, where she would captain their outstanding, “powerhouse” of a sailing team. One day while training on the beach, Jurczak planted her foot, heard a pop, and fell to the ground. Although Jurczak laughs now as she describes her knee injuries as a “hat-trick,” she was not laughing when she limped home to tell her mom and dad she had done it again.
Jurczak’s surgeon was prepared to operate right away. However, Jurczak knew that she could live without her ACL and she set her mind towards sailing through the fall season, regardless of the pain. Equipped with only her brace, and a little bit of grit, Jurczak captained her team through the fall. She even canceled the winter surgery she had scheduled earlier so as to avoid missing out on any springtime races. To the surprise of her surgeon, Jurczak finished a successful fall and spring season with her team. Amazingly, she was also one of few sailors selected to the 2000 Collegiate All American Sailing Team.
However, Jurczak’s uncooperative left knee still needed to be repaired. Family friends suggested that she schedule an appointment with Dr. Russell Warren (team physician for the New York Giants) for a second opinion. When asked to describe Dr. Warren, Jurczak states, “He’s great, he’s awesome, I loved him. You can tell he works with athletes.” Dr. Warren recommended that Jurczak have her ACL repaired. She agreed and surgery was scheduled once again.
On June 27th, 2000, two cameramen in the operating room filmed Jurczak’s hamstring-graft ACL repair. Jurczak and her parents agreed to have her surgery broadcast live over the Internet via Knee1.com. Jurczak felt that it would be an excellent opportunity to publicize the rising numbers of female athletes injuring their knees. She also mentioned that she wished there had been a Knee1.com around for information while she was going through her first two surgeries.
It has been 10 months since Jurczak had her ACL repaired, and she says, “I am doing great.” With physical therapy, determination, and a wonderful attitude, Jurczak has worked her way back into the world of activity. She began running only four months after the procedure and continues to run almost 10 miles a week in addition to playing full-field soccer, 2-on-2 basketball, rock climbing and sailing. Although Jurczak’s knee still swells up and gets a little tender, she chooses not to wear her brace and instead focuses on “having a blast.”