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Jaeden’s story: 'In great hands' for knee surgery

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Knee surgery got Jaeden LeCapitaine back on the field for his last high school athletic season.

Jaeden LeCapitaine knew immediately that something terrible had happened to his knee.

It was his senior year at Freedom High School. Then 17, he was enjoying his final year of high school football and looking forward to one last high school baseball season.

First things first, though. The big game.

“It was our homecoming game and it was a big thing and I was ready to go out there,” LeCapitaine says, recalling his excitement.

“All my family is there, fans are going nuts and everything and I dropped back for a punt return and as soon as I caught it, I took three steps forward and I was gonna cut quick outside to the right and when I planted with my left leg, it went left instead of straight.”

Sustaining a serious knee injury

LeCapitaine says he was sickened by the “gross feeling” and the “loud pop” from his knee.

“I just laid on the ground,” he says. “The whistle blew and I was like, ‘I’m never gonna play football again’ and I was just crushed.”

As he lay on the field, he quickly was surrounded by familiar faces.

“Everyone came rushing. My head coach came bolting out and, like, knelt beside me. My trainer and Todd Bruss, he was alongside me, too, evaluating me.” Bruss is a certified physician assistant with Orthopedics & Sports Medicine BayCare Clinic. “I felt like I was in good hands right away.”

Follow-up evaluations revealed serious damage to LeCapitaine’s anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus. The ACL is one of the ligaments that helps stabilize the knee joint. The meniscus is a piece of cartilage in the knee that functions like a shock absorber, cushioning and stabilizing the joint.

LeCapitaine would need surgery to repair the damage to his knee. He sought help from Dr. John Awowale, an orthopedic surgeon with Orthopedics & Sports Medicine BayCare Clinic.

“A torn ACL, especially in a young, active student like himself, is kind of a season-ending injury but we try to get people back after that,” Awowale says. “Usually that’s an operative case so the way that we do that is we reconstruct the ACL.”

Fear of ACL surgery

LeCapitaine was uneasy at the thought of surgery.

“The biggest fear in my life at that time … in my whole life, was tearing my ACL and having surgery,” he says. “I was definitely afraid. I was very scared when I heard that.”

Awowale and members of his surgical team assured LeCapitaine that all would be well.

“I’m sure they could see the fear in my eyes,” LeCapitaine says. “My parents even told them, too, I’m sure, behind my back, saying ‘This kid is very afraid and this is one of his biggest fears.’ I was just overwhelmed by it all, but they were there by my side.”

At times, LeCapitaine was emotional when he thought about the way his high school football career ended. Especially when he realized he would be in surgery during a game that held special meaning for his family.

“I was already worked up because my dad’s old school was Denmark and we were playing them at Denmark the day I got surgery so it was kind of a big day that would have happened and, yeah, I guess I was already overwhelmed from the knee and (missing) the game.”

But Awowale and his team “got my mind off the game and everything,” LeCapitaine says.

Quick recovery from knee surgery

Surgery was a success. “I was completely relieved,” LeCapitaine says.

Awowale used a heathy tendon from LeCapitaine’s knee to reconstruct the ACL.

Recovery from ACL surgery can take up to nine months, “but it involves a lot of strengthening and working with their physical therapist,” Awowale says.

But LeCapitaine was far from typical, Awowale says. “We got him back sooner than usual. … It was important to Jaeden because he was a senior at that time, so we really were trying to get him back to enjoy some of his senior season.”

He recovered in six months and made it back in time to enjoy baseball season. The all-state high school catcher rejoined his team as a designated hitter.

“I earned my way DHing and then after the season finished, I played Legion ball and I was hitting great there, too, and at 10 months I actually got the opportunity to catch again,” LeCapitaine says.

He offers high praise to Awowale and his surgical and recovery and rehabilitation teams.

“Dr. Awowale was great. I mean, he knew how much of an athlete I was and how much I wanted to get back out playing,” LeCapitaine says. “He also knew I had a future in maybe playing after high school and sports so he wanted me to get in the best shape and best hands as I could possibly get, and he provided that. … He was there for me every checkup I had until the day I got cleared.”

LeCapitaine says he would trust Awowale and his team with any other orthopedics-related issues.

“They knew exactly what they were going to do and had a game plan,” LeCapitaine says. “I was in great hands and everything turned out successful.”

Published: Tuesday, February 21, 2023