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Published August 19, 2012, 11:30 PM

ACL surgery continues to see advances

Fargo North Dakota State sophomore Jamie Van Kirk walks around a basketball court these days like any other women’s basketball player. You practically need a magnifying glass on her knee to notice that she underwent major surgery.

By: Eric Peterson, Jeff Kolpack and Tom Mix, INFORUM


North Dakota State sophomore Jamie Van Kirk walks around a basketball court these days like any other women’s basketball player. You practically need a magnifying glass on her knee to notice that she underwent major surgery.

The evidence left by anterior cruciate ligament repair to her right knee are four small circles about a centimeter in diameter and a horizontal incision not much bigger than that.

“What amazes me is you only need tiny incisions to fix your knee,” Van Kirk said. “I can’t get over that. It’s crazy. Amazing.”

Amazing probably best describes the advances medicine has taken in the ACL reconstruction process. The surgery is different, the recovery has advanced and an athlete’s mental outlook is much different from decades ago.

“Doctors are getting more and more clever at doing these operations,” said Dr. Howard Berglund, an orthopedic surgeon at Fargo’s Sanford Orthopedic and Sports Medicine. “There are smaller incisions with less invasive techniques and those have been a benefit.”

Autografts and allografts are two commonly used grafts for ACL surgery.

Autografts is when tissue from a patient’s body is used to rebuild the ACL, usually using tissue from the hamstring or the patellar tendon. An allograft is when the tissue comes from a donor’s body, usually a cadaver.

“I like using hamstring grafts for certain reasons,” Berglund said. “I think they rehab a little faster. I think they have less pain in the front of their knee. Patellar tendon works really well, too.”

Bruce Piatt, the NDSU team doctor from Sanford Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, prefers to use the patellar tendon as opposed to the hamstring when he performs ACL reconstructive surgery.

“That’s what I’m most comfortable with, but I do both depending on the situation with it,” Piatt said. “I don’t think there is a bad option either way. If the surgeon is competent, using either one, they can do a good job with it.”

Many athletes, who elect to have an ACL procedure, do so with intentions of returning to competition.

Each athlete’s journey of returning to play starts with surgery.

Former Fargo North High boys basketball standout Brady Syverson experienced that reality last winter when he tore his ACL in a basketball game. The injury cost Syverson the remainder of his senior year. However, in the wake of the injury, he quickly realized the next step was a trip to the office of Berglund.

“I just wanted to get it over with,” Syverson said of his surgery. “We had an appointment with doctors before the surgery. They told me that they were going to take the graft out of my hamstring and just told me how the surgery goes and what precautions they take.”

When his surgery date arrived, Syverson went in with some knowledge. Post operation, the 6-foot-5 forward was intrigued by learning more about the procedure.

“It was kind of cool to learn how they do the surgery,” he said. “Now they have arthroscopic surgery and my surgery only took 45 minutes. It’s crazy to think they got it done that quick. I thought it was going to take two to three hours.”

Concordia sophomore-to-be Katelyn Holland, a West Fargo High School graduate, felt stressed around the time of her surgery.

She didn’t sleep well the night before the procedure.

“I remember being really nervous going into surgery and being scared,” said Holland, who had her surgery last February after injuring her knee playing women’s basketball for the Cobbers.

Holland said she was told prior to her knee surgery that females generally cry when they come out of surgery. She thought that was weird, but it proved to be true.

“Right when I came out of surgery and saw my parents, I did start crying,” she said. “It’s kind of an emotional thing.”

Spencer Flaten, who plays baseball for Jamestown College, also remembers being anxious heading into his surgery.

The West Fargo High School graduate was hoping that his doctor wouldn’t find any additional damage during the surgery.

“I just wanted to get it over and done with and start the recovery process,” said Flaten, who had a hamstring graft used to replace his ACL.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513 or at epeterson@forumcomm.com

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546 or at jkolpack@forumcomm.com

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Tom Mix at (701) 451-5651 or at tmix@forumcomm.com