Southcoast Health Helps a Volleyball Player Get Back in the Game

Just a few weeks before school started last year, Makenna Eaton, then a sophomore at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School, was on the third day of tryouts for the school’s volleyball team.

It was August 24, 2022, and Makenna, a lifelong New Bedford resident, did what she had been doing for years as a volleyball player. She jumped to handle a ball and landed on her feet. Immediately, she felt a sharp pain in her left knee. She hoped it wasn’t a serious injury and tried to continue with practice drills, but the pain worsened, and she went to see the school’s athletic trainer.

Initially, the trainer thought it was a minor injury, and that ice, along with anti-inflammatories, would remedy the situation. However, the following day, her knee was painfully swollen. The trainer suggested she see Dr. John Ponti, an orthopedic specialist at Southcoast Health, who recommended she undergo an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging, which is a non-invasive scan that uses a large magnet and radio waves to give doctors a detailed image of bones, organs, tendons and other internal structures).

The MRI showed that Makenna had torn her meniscus and ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), and she was referred to Southcoast Health orthopedic surgeon Dr. Joseph Lifrak, who met with her within a week. “Dr. Lifrak was amazing,” Makenna said, “He explained in detail the different options I had to repair my knee, and which one would be the best course of action for me to play volleyball again.” He also disclosed the possible complications or failures of each, and how long it would take her to heal.

After weighing the options, Makenna, who now is 16 and entering her junior year, and her family decided they favored a surgical option to use a piece of her hamstring to fix the ACL tear. Once healed, it would give her the best chance to jump freely — and to play volleyball again. Because of the initial swelling from her injury, she had to wait until October for surgery to get the best results.

Makenna had surgery on October 14, 2022, at the outpatient surgery center on Faunce Corner Road in Dartmouth. She was in and out within a few hours, even though during surgery Dr. Lifrak had to repair the meniscus as well as the ACL.

Following surgery, Dr. Lifrak explained the exercise regimen he wanted her to follow to achieve a favorable outcome. He warned her that the first days after surgery would be painful, but moving the leg was imperative to inhibit scar tissue growth. During her frequent office visits, Dr. Lifrak closely monitored Makenna’s progress and answered her questions and concerns.

“His warm and caring nature, coupled with his extensive experience and expertise, definitely gave Makenna the best chance for success,” Makenna’s mother Kristen said.

Makenna began twice weekly physical therapy sessions with Jack Curtis, the Southcoast Health Team Lead of Rehabilitation Services, in November. Rehab was initially difficult and uncomfortable, but Jack’s knowledge and persistence allowed Makenna to make progress quickly and stay ahead of schedule.

“Jack was fantastic. He was funny and reassuring while simultaneously pushing Makenna out of her comfort zone. He showed her how to stretch and carefully demonstrated each exercise, all while explaining their purpose,” Kristen said.

With hard work and determination, Makenna was able to reduce the frequency of her sessions to once a week in January and was cleared to return to sports in July, well ahead of her August 21, 2023, volleyball tryout. With the help of her Southcoast Health Team, Makenna is now ready to return to playing the sport that she loves.

“We would highly recommend the services of Dr. Lifrak, Jack Curtis and the orthopedic team to our family and friends,” Makenna and Kristen agreed.

Makenna, who is studying architectural design, will start her junior year in a few weeks — ready to hit the court with her teammates.

For more information on Southcoast Health’s Sports Medicine, visit Sports Medicine Services MA & RI | Southcoast Health.