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Kaitlyn’s story: Reaching big dreams after overcoming a severe childhood leg injury

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Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn Weightman

For 17-year-old Kaitlyn Weightman, after-school sports have always been a huge part of her life since she was a young child. But no sport – not even softball – compares to her love for swimming.

“When I was 5, I was a softball player,” Kaitlyn said. “I did that for a few years, and then one summer, I got really bored with softball. My mom was like, “Let’s try swimming.” At first, I wasn’t sure about it, and then I realized how much I enjoyed the sport. From ages 6 to 13, I participated in a summer league swim team. When I turned 12, I joined a year-round aquatic club where I continue to swim. Also, I swim for Montgomery High School where my relay team won the state championship in 2019. I’ve also competed individually at state championships throughout high school. In Fall 2022, I’ll be a Division 1 athlete for the University of New Mexico swim team. This is so exciting and a dream come true for me.”

Nine years ago, Kaitlyn wasn’t sure if she’d be able to swim again. When she was 8, she sustained a leg injury on the school playground. She remembers that day – Nov. 2, 2012 – vividly.

“I was sitting inside a teacup, where you spin in circles,” Kaitlyn said. “Before I knew it, the loop of my shoelace got caught on a bolt that wasn’t supposed to be there. As the teacup was spinning, my leg wrapped around it. When I looked down, I saw my bone sticking out of my leg and I screamed. It was a traumatic experience for me to see my leg in that state. My foot was almost ripped off of my lower leg.”

Kaitlyn was rushed to the Emergency Center at Texas Children’s Hospital, where she and her parents met with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Scott Rosenfeld and his team to evaluate the extent of her leg injury. Kaitlyn had an open tibia and fibula fracture. Her large wound measured 20 cm. and had extensive soft tissue injury and severe contamination. Kaitlyn would need immediate surgery to repair the fracture.

“Before my surgery, Dr. Rosenfeld asked me if I had any questions, and that’s when I asked him, “Will I be able to swim again? He said “yes,” with confidence, which gave me hope. He told me he was a college swimmer and knew just how much swimming meant to me. Dr. Rosenfeld reassured me everything would be fine. He said he would do everything he could to make sure I was able to return to the pool again.”

Before proceeding with Kaitlyn’s surgery, Dr. Rosenfeld and his team spent time washing Kaitlyn’s  wound and disinfecting the bone ends with antibiotic wash. They also removed any severely damaged skin and tissue that was not viable before beginning the delicate, two-and-a-half-hour procedure.

“To repair her leg fracture, we put the ends of the bone together and held it there with a large bone clamp,” Rosenfeld said. “We made a couple of small poke holes on either side of the leg just below the knee. Through each of these holes in the skin, we placed a titanium rod into the canal of the bone and across the fracture site and down into the bottom of the tibia bone which held the bone in good alignment. We spent the next hour of the surgery closing everything back up. Also, we put the muscle back where it belonged and then closed the skin. Her leg was put into a cast which she wore for the next four weeks.”

Following surgery, Kaitlyn underwent inpatient physical therapy (PT) for several months with her physical therapist, Meaghan Coreas. Kaitlyn’s PT sessions focused on household distances for ambulation, sit to stand transfers, and getting in and out of bed. Kaitlyn used a pediatric rolling walker, which helped her with mobility and balance, before she regained the ability to walk without the need for any assistance.

“It’s amazing how far I’ve come since my leg injury,” Kaitlyn said. “Besides the support from my parents, family and friends, I credit my full recovery to the wonderful doctors, nurses, physical therapists and so many others who helped me get through this traumatic experience on so many levels. Dr. Rosenfeld has been one of my biggest motivators. He kept telling me everything would be OK and he was right.”

Today, Kaitlyn is doing exceptionally well. Next year, she will be swimming competitively for the University of New Mexico. In addition to obtaining a swimming scholarship there, she also has big plans to major in psychology so one day she can help children who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I want kids to know that no matter how severe their injury or traumatic experience is, they can overcome it with determination, prayer and support from friends and family,” Kaitlyn said. “Overcoming my leg injury has made me a stronger person because I had to work extremely hard to regain all of my strength back. Since the accident, I continue to follow a positive mindset – the harder I work, the stronger I will get.”

Kaitlyn continues to keep in touch with Dr. Rosenfeld and provide regular updates on her successes and accomplishments in the swim world, including her plans to compete as a D1 college athlete next fall.

“It makes me so happy and gratified to see my patients return to the activities they love,” Rosenfeld said. “As an orthopedic surgeon, it can be very easy to focus on a healed X-ray as the indicator of our outcomes. But really, the most important outcome is that patients are able to resume the activities they enjoy, and in the unique case of Kaitlyn, become an elite athlete who inspires us all with her resilience.”

Click here to learn more about Texas Children’s Orthopedic Surgery. Click here for more information about our Fracture Program.

Kaitlyn Weightman