Young Skier Is Stronger Than Ever After Knee Surgery
April 10, 2023
Grace Sheets was just two years old when she first strapped on a pair of skis and took to the slopes. From that point on, she was hooked. “It’s always been my favorite thing to do,” says Grace.
In fact, skiing has always been a favorite activity for the entire Sheets family. As members of a ski program, they made frequent trips to HoliMont Ski Resort in New York to enjoy the sport with friends and other families. As the years went by, Grace became more proficient, honing her skills and, ultimately, becoming a highly skilled, competitive skier.
Interestingly, one of the families with whom they spent time skiing throughout Grace’s pre-teen years, was that of James Voos, MD, orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician at University Hospitals. This friendship would become very significant years later, when Grace was twelve years old.
December 31, 2018: The Accident
It was the end of the first race of the ski season at HoliMont when it happened. Grace remembers “overbending” and then hearing a loud pop when she crashed during the race. “I was just lying there thinking about a friend of mine who had popped her knee earlier in the year and hoping that’s all it was,” says Grace.
But as it turned out, her injury was far worse than a popped knee – she had, in fact, suffered a complete tear of her right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – the band of tissue that connects the thighbone to the shinbone at the knee. ACL tears frequently occur with sports that involve sudden stops and changes in direction such as basketball, soccer and skiing. Symptoms may include knee swelling, instability, and pain.
Grace was immobilized and had to be removed from the ski slopes by ski patrol. She was taken by ambulance to an emergency room in New York where X-rays were performed and her knee was placed in a temporary brace for safe travel back to Ohio.
Once back home, Grace’s mom, Christine, took her straight to the orthopedic experts at University Hospitals, specifically looking to their friend and fellow-skier, Dr. Voos, for help. An MRI was done on Grace’s knee and Dr. Voos called them later with the results. His recommendation was that surgery to reconstruct her ACL would provide the best opportunity for recovery. Dr. Voos created an individualized treatment plan to meet Grace’s specific goals while still protecting her open growth plates.
A Future Without Sports?
“This was the first major injury I’d ever had, from skiing or anything else,” says Grace. “I play sports year-round including cross country and track in the spring and fall. The idea of not being able to do anything was devastating. It was definitely a hard loss to consider.”
But Dr. Voos and his team were optimistic. They encouraged Grace to stay positive, and she was prescribed physical therapy in the weeks leading up to the surgery.
Three weeks after the accident, on January 22, 2019, Grace had surgery to reconstruct her ACL at UH Ahuja Medical Center. With Dr. Voos leading the surgical team, the less than one-hour procedure went smoothly. Grace went home the same day as her surgery and started physical therapy within a few days.
The Road to Recovery
“Dr. Voos explained that the ACL is like a rubber band. My job over the coming months was to strengthen my knee and gain range of motion so I could return to sports,” says Grace. While wearing a brace, Grace began a long journey of rehab and recovery, facing it with the same determination that made her such an accomplished athlete. “It was mentally draining. Some days I felt like it wasn’t ever going to get any better.” “But, my UH physical therapists, Mike and Lauren, helped to keep me motivated. For the first few months, I went to rehab every day after school and grew very close to them – it’s just nice to have someone in your corner, cheering you on. When my rehab appointments became more widely spaced, I really missed them during the weeks I didn’t have to go,” says Grace.
Rehab continued for nearly a year. Finally, she was cleared to return to sports and was allowed to return to the slopes. “I was nervous,” she says. “But I didn’t let on – I was more excited than scared. I had worked day-in and day-out to get to this point and couldn’t wait to get back to my favorite activity – skiing.”
Grace continued to race and train, determined to regain the strength and fitness level she enjoyed before the accident. Today, at 17 and a junior in high school, she is back to her old self, maybe even stronger. Although she’s not sure what she plans to study after high school, there’s one thing she’s certain of – she will continue to ski.
Personalized Care for Every Patient
“I am so proud of Grace,” says Dr. Voos. She is a dedicated athlete and wonderful person. I am grateful she and her family trusted me to be part of her recovery. Seeing her return to high level skiing is the most fulfilling part of my job,” he adds. “We have an amazing team here at UH that provides personalized, state-of-the-art care for athletes of all ages.”