Pierce started his freshman year lacrosse season with the goal of making the starting varsity lineup. He did – then the pandemic hit and all games were canceled. Sophomore year, he was ready to come back in full force.
"Early in the season he made a quick turn and just went down," says Pierce's mom, Debbie. "It was hard to tell exactly what happened but he was down and obviously in pain."
The next day, they came to Children's Health℠ Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. X-rays and an MRI revealed Pierce had torn his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
"I was devastated," Pierce says. "I felt as if all of the hard work I had done didn't matter. I had just missed a whole season due to COVID and had been working so hard to be in the best shape for this season."
Physical therapy prepares Pierce for ACL surgery
Pierce's knee was so swollen that his care team recommended doing physical therapy before surgery, to help the swelling go down.
"We weren't expecting to do PT before surgery, but we knew we were in good hands. Pierce's care team explained each step of treatment and why they were doing it," Debbie says. "They ended up doing a combination of ice and gentle movement therapy, then surgery a few weeks later."
When the swelling came down, Pierce prepared for surgery with Dustin Loveland, M.D., Surgical Director and Chief of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Children's Heath Andrews Institute. Dr. Loveland made Pierce feel comfortable and encouraged him to ask questions.
"We really appreciated how Dr. Loveland was so personable and friendly," Debbie says. "He talked to Pierce on his level. He even gave us his cell phone number and said to reach out if we had any questions before or after surgery."
Perseverance pays off in Pierce's recovery
Pierce's surgery went well but recovering from ACL surgery is a long road. It typically requires months of rehabilitation, then a slow ramp up – especially for contact sports.
"It was a terrible feeling knowing that I had 8 to 12 months of no lacrosse," Pierce says. "But at the same time, I was very determined to get back up and not stop."
Pierce continued to see the physical therapy team and participated in the Sports Performance powered by EXOS Bridge Program, which helps athletes recover from injury and provides individualized training to help get back to their sport. With commute time and therapy time, this could take 3 hours or more out of his day.
"At that point it became like piano lessons for some kids, where you want the final result but putting in the work feels like a chore – especially when he had to spend so much time driving," Debbie says. "I didn't want to push Pierce if he really didn't want to play again. But his physical therapist reached out to Pierce directly and encouraged him to push through. And whatever his PT said, it motivated Pierce to really put in the work."
Slowly but surely, Pierce's knee got stronger. He appreciated how Dr. Loveland's team would coordinate with physical therapy, so he never had to come for extra appointments.
"What kept me motivated during PT was the constant positivity from the specialist and seeing improvement. In the beginning I could barely straighten my leg and a week later I had full range of motion," Pierce says.
After months of hard work and rehabilitation, Pierce got the news he'd been waiting for: He was cleared to start playing lacrosse again.
"His care team explained that he could play, but it would still be a process getting back up to 100%. His body hadn't played lacrosse in 10 months and he still needed to get back into condition," Debbie says. "But he was so ready to get back out there, he called his coach from the parking lot."
Returning to play
The care team told Pierce he initially needed to avoid "dodging," or quickly evading a defender and then trying to score. This took a lot of mental strength: being back on the field, seeing a path to score and deliberately not taking it.
"As a teenager, it's really difficult when you know that everybody is watching – and they don't know why you're going easy or what you're capable of – but you still have to make the decision that's best for your health and your future," Debbie says.
One quarter at a time, Pierce got back in the game. He took literal long shots to avoid contact with defenders. Week by week, he felt more confident on the field. Through his recovery, Pierce also achieved another big goal: He was voted team captain.
"As captain, my job is to motivate each and every player," he says. "I had to prove leadership on and off the field and give a speech to prove I was worthy. Then all grades from freshman to senior voted based on who they thought would be a good captain."
By Spring 2022, after much patience and dedication, Pierce was back to full speed.
"I have never felt so good about my knee and my body as a whole," Pierce says. "This whole experience had its ups and downs. I felt sad, happy, upset and motivated all at once. I cannot thank the coaches and PTs at Children's Health Andrews Institute enough for all of the patience and help. Now, I am lifting, running and back to playing full speed. I have never felt this proud and happy with myself."
The Children's Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine aims at reducing the number of children being sidelined from injury. Learn more about our wide range of services available to help athletes stay healthy and improve their game.