A Home Run After ACL Reconstruction

Young baseball player wearing championship tshirt
Sonny celebrates a championship after returning to baseball following his ACL reconstruction.

It all started in June of 2020 when Sonny, then 12 years old, was riding his bike with friends. “One of my friends accidently cut in front of me. I hit his tire, flipped over the handlebars, and hit my knee. It felt ok for a few weeks, but then – during an outfield drill at baseball practice – I went to throw the ball and planted my foot weird. One part of my leg went one way and the other went the opposite way. I had to be carried off of the field,” said Sonny.

An MRI revealed Sonny had torn his ACL and damaged other structures in his knee. Their local orthopedic surgeon told Melissa, Sonny’s mom, that the only person he would trust to do this operation on such a young child was Dr. Lauren Redler at Columbia Pediatric Orthopedics and NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital.

“We were able to get in right away with Dr. Redler and from the moment we walked in the doors and met the ladies behind the desk they were so sweet and informative. Other doctor’s offices I have been to – during COVID times especially – were standoffish and cold. This was a completely different vibe,” said Melissa. Sonny was worried before the appointment, but was put at ease once he met Dr. Redler and her team.

Sonny and Melissa met first with Anise, an athletic trainer who works with Dr. Redler, to answer any initial questions. “I appreciated the way Anise was able to explain and take these big terms and make them understandable to a 12-year-old,” said Mom, Melissa. Dr. Redler's evaluation confirmed that Sonny had suffered a left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, a proximal medial collateral ligament (MCL) tear, and small meniscus tear – and she discussed treatment options with the family, including living with his symptoms, continued non-operative care, or surgical intervention.

Due to Sonny’s age and skeletal immaturity, as well as activity level playing baseball, football, and wrestling, they decided on ACL reconstruction utilizing an IT band autograft. The iliotibial band (IT) band runs along the outside of the leg from the hip to the knee. When used as a graft, it is harvested using a special surgical technique and then wrapped around the femur and re attached to the top of the tibia to mimic the structure and function of the ACL. This technique has proven to be successful in skeletally immature patients, lowering risk of re-tear and growth disturbance and increasing better functional outcomes. An accompanying MCL reconstruction and meniscus repair were done to address the tears sustained during Sonny’s existing injury. 

Child in hospital room

“It was hard because of COVID my husband couldn’t be as involved, so it was nerve wracking because I didn’t have my support system and we were visiting the children’s hospital at the height of COVID in NYC. Before surgery, Sonny was so nervous. I told him to tell Dr. Redler what he was worried about: he was was afraid he wasn't going to wake up.  Dr. Redler took the question with no issues and said, 'buddy, you will have a whole team by your head and their job is to keep you asleep and then wake you up, there are so many people in the operating room that are going to be looking after just you, I promise you are going to wake up.' As a parent there were really no words, Sonny felt comfortable and that’s all I could have asked,” said Melissa. "My advice to other parents is to trust Dr. Redler and listen to her - she know's what she's doing."

Sonny was back to playing baseball less than a year after surgery. In a recent game he hit a home run that rallied the team to a come-from-behind win – sending them to the USABL world series. “Let’s just say, Sonny’s teammates are super happy Dr. Redler helped him get better,” said Melissa.