Any knee injury has the potential to take a huge toll on your quality of life, but if you’re an athlete, the toll can be tremendous. The key to recovery is, of course, getting the right care at the right time. For Shawn Jackson, an avid motocrosser who suffered a serious knee injury, that meant making sure he chose the right doctor – and the right treatment.
Shawn’s active lifestyle and love for sports began when he was a child, with wrestling, martial arts, skateboarding, BMX and motocross activities topping the list of his favorite physical pastimes. In martial arts, Shawn spent a decade as a professional fighter, sparring well into his 30s, and other sports and activities have kept him busy on and off as a busy husband and father. But of all the sports he’s participated in, motocross and BMX have stayed with him since childhood, consistently providing him with the physical challenge and excitement that keeps so many athletes pursuing their next “personal best.”
Like lots of motocross enthusiasts, Shawn dreamed of taking on the trails in Moab, Utah. With its rough-and-rugged terrain, Moab is home to some of the most challenging bike trails in the U.S., and for anyone with a passion for motocross, it’s about as close to the Holy Grail as you can get. And in the autumn of 2016, Shawn decided to try his luck, heading out to Moab to hit those hilly, twisting trails.
For five days, Shawn enjoyed the trails, riding his bike round and round countless miles of rough terrain. Then on day five, after a 120-mile ride over rocks, through sand and around cliffs, Mother Nature threw in a twist – one that Shawn’s skill as an experienced rider just couldn’t overcome.
“Days before I arrived, Moab received a lot of rain, which was unusual,” he recalls. “The rain left a lot of standing water on many of the trails, which hadn’t been an issue – until I came across an open stretch of road that looked harmless. Up until that point, I’d been taking a lot of precautions and driving slowly because of the level of danger on the rain-washed trails. But when I saw that stretch, I thought I’d have a little fun in the mud.
“Well, I wound up going a bit too fast,” he says. “What I did not consider was what was under the standing water – ruts in the road from constant travel. About three-quarters of the way through my run, the patch on my front tire locked into a rut and pulled me to the side. The toe of my boot got snagged, and my leg was ripped backward about 90 degrees in the wrong direction before I was finally launched from my bike. Once my riding partner arrived we tried to get me back to my feet where we determined my ride was over.”
Getting the Right Treatment
Once he got back home, Shawn sought advice from two doctors before seeing Dr. Van Thiel, including a doctor who’d treated Shawn for a past injury.
“Between both of those visits, the doctors spent a total of about five minutes with me and my wife, telling me I didn’t need surgery and that everything would heal properly without an operation,” he says. “But given the type of accident I’d had and the seriousness of my injuries – plus the fact that I wanted to get back to my active lifestyle – we left those office visits knowing we needed another option. Luckily, my wife had done her research, and Dr. Van Thiel was at the top of her list.” That research, says Shawn, paid off.
“When we went for my evaluation at Ortho Illinois, I couldn’t believe the difference,” he remembers. “Dr. Van Thiel was thorough and spent plenty of time helping us understand my injuries (Shawn had both a PCL tear and an MCL tear) and how to go about repairing the damage. He explained the severity of the high impact injury and that I could go without surgery and try my luck, but after explaining the surgery and discussing what my recovery process would be like without surgery, I was confident surgery was the better option for me – specifically after telling him that I was going to return and finish the bike trip. Plus, during the entire office visit, he was honest and easy to talk to, very warm and considerate – I had my five-year-old daughter there, and he made her feel comfortable, too.”
Back to Normal – and Back to Moab
After surgery to repair both ligaments and reconstruct the damaged joint, Shawn knew he’d have a lot of therapy to get “back to normal” – and to make sure he was ready to tackle the trails of Moab again.
“I’ve been through injuries before, so I know what that’s like,” he says. “Right after surgery, the inability to walk right away or to go up stairs – things like that got to me a bit. But then I had my first therapy session, and I immediately gained back the confidence that it would all work out. Luckily, I put in the work before surgery with the therapist and at home exercises – that paid off in my recovery.”
In fact, Shawn notes, it’s that recovery process – and all the therapy it involves – that’s getting him back on the trails a lot faster than he’d imagined.
“Recovery was tough, but I had a great therapist,” he says. “She was hard on me and never let me quit. I didn’t actually mind the discomfort of therapy, because I knew that was what was going to help me recover following the surgery to repair all my injuries.
“And as a result of the surgery and therapy, I’m able to do everything I did before the accident – still not at quite 100% yet, but I’m getting there,” he adds. “Even better – I can proudly say I went back to Moab in September and finished my ride – without incident!”
Shawn’s advice for other patients worried about their knee injuries:
“Get in and have a professional like Dr. Van Thiel assess your injuries and recommend the proper course of action – and if surgery is involved, do the therapy and exercises, before and after surgery. Don’t get down, stay positive and know that whatever you put into the recovery is what you will get out of it. Find a good therapist who cares and knows what your expectations are – they will be your best friend for 6-12 months!”