It's a beautiful summer day in Maine as Alyson Kritz leaves her family cabin for a run. Kritz, 16 years old and a junior at Southlake Carroll Senior High, begins her three-mile jaunt run with her steps measured. But soon she settles in and returns to the form that she's missed for so long.
Around Christmas 2008, Alyson felt a shooting pain at the bottom of her spine. At first, it stung a little only when "I would sit weird, but then it started to hurt all the time," she said. During track season, Alyson became frustrated. The pain was interfering with her running. As quickly as two minutes of a distance run, Alyson began to hurt.
She was disappointed in her performance in track that season, but was devastated when her injury took away her entire cross country season. By early May 2009, Alyson was in the middle of a doctor's search and physical therapy that was not working for her or her family.
At 16 years old, Alyson's parents thought it best if their daughter saw adult physicians. But they soon discovered they needed care that was more youth centered. One physician told Alyson she should simply give up running. Other doctors turned Alyson away because they did not feel their specialty was treating children.
When they found an adult physician and she was diagnosed with a herniated disc in her lower back, Alyson and her parents became frustrated at the little amount of attention they received and the wait time on basic condition reports after a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
But then the final straw ...
"The reason we wanted to get a second opinion was because Alyson's first doctor basically told her she should get used to living with pain," Doris Kritz, Alyson's mother said. "We did not want to settle for that diagnosis and began our search for another physician."
Frustrated, Alyson's father, Jerry Kritz, called Cook Children's. He wasn't even sure who he needed to talk to, but he knew his daughter needed specialized help. Jerry Kritz still isn't sure who recommended he speak to Cook Children's neurosurgeon Richard Roberts, M.D., but he is eternally grateful.
What struck the Kritz family immediately was the amount of time Dr. Roberts spent with the family, but soon they saw that was just the beginning. Alyson quickly received an MRI and saw the focus on collaboration.
A team was treating Alyson. Dr. Roberts worked with her from a neurological standpoint, Pain Management, led by Artee Gandhi, M.D., worked with her on coping with the pain and Rehabilitation Services helped from the physical standpoint.
That collaborative effort is what helps a patient like Alyson, teaching her breathing techniques to help her cope with her pain on a daily basis and then treating her physically to allow her to return to running.
Rehabilitation Services was the catalyst that would return Alyson to running. Alyson was matched up with a physical therapist, Lauren Arnold, PT, DPT, specializing in running. The entire team at Cook Children's Sports Performance Orthopedic Rehab Team Specialists (SPORTS), fittingly enough, competed in athletics at a high level.
Alyson said she is basically starting over in her quest to return to running. She decided against competing in cross country this season, but she has something more important to her and her family – quality of life. She is no longer living in near constant pain after three months of extensive rehab. Alyson said she saw results after only two weeks.
Today, Alyson is working with a personal trainer. The trainer has been in contact with the Rehab team at Cook Children's to make sure her workouts will help her continue her recovery. The wise 16 year old offers sage advice for other kids her age, as well as their parents.
"Definitely don't wait to go to see pediatric specialists like at Cook Children's," Alyson said. "That's the best advice I can offer. We saw so many bad doctors. If we had started at Cook Children's, everything would have been so much easier. It might have been the difference on whether or not I ran my sophomore year of cross country at Carroll."
This specially-trained group of rehab specialists is dedicated to helping young athletes like Alyson return to the playing field or court.
A walk through the SPORTS program finds a wide range of ages and sizes. With the advances in weight training, many kids who suffer sports injuries may look like adults, but that may not be the case physically and emotionally. A smaller child may not feel comfortable working out in the same area with a standout football player for instance. All that is taken into account with the SPORTS program. The equipment is specially designed to adjust to the needs of the patient, which is missing from adult practices and the emotional maturity of the child is taken into account.
"We are specially trained to recognize the uniqueness of children and adolescents in regards to their growing bones, hypermobility of their joints, and we appreciate the many other demands on their bodies such as school schedules, training schedules, and social demands" said Dana Harrison, PT, MPT, Cook Children's SPORTS program manager. "We have training to work with pediatrics not only from the physical, but from the psychological perspective as well. We understand normal and abnormal development, and take individual patient's maturation levels into consideration.
"Professionals who are trained to see only adults may be limited with skills in communicating with a child 16 or under, knowing the demands of their growing bodies, and recognizing pediatric specific diagnoses. At SPORTS, we are here to evaluate the patient and include the entire family in planning treatment and return to sport goals."
Children as young as 5 years old are referred to rehab facilities after sustaining traumatic injuries, such as ACL tears, or overuse injuries from competing in the same sport or similar activity year round. "Their little bodies can't handle the demands of overuse," Harrison warns.
SPORTS services include:
- Physical therapy
- Urgent Care Center and Emergency Department
- Education and instruction for athletes, parents coaches and athletic trainers
- Injury prevention seminars
Harrison jokes that the preventive education and seminars may put them out of business, but their ultimate goal is to stop kids from getting hurt. If they do become injured the expert staff at Cook Children's SPORTS can take care of a young patient just as well, if not better, than anyone.
As part of the Cook Children's Health Care system, the patients at SPORTS have access to an integrated group that includes board certified physicians representing more than 40 pediatric specialists, as well as laboratory services, nutritional consultations and sports medicine counseling.
"One of the things unique to SPORTS and being a part of Cook Children's is that once a child comes into our system, there is one medical record for that patient," Harrison said. "Different specialties involved in the care of a child have ease of communication with each other, ensuring all professionals treating a patient are on the same page and truly tuned in to providing the best possible care, and enabling things to be done in such a timely manner."
SPORTS is located on the Cook Children's northeast campus in Hurst at the intersection of Precinct Line Road and Mid-Cities Boulevard. For more information, call 1-866-205-7270 or 817-605-2925.