Kenzie Horton has been playing soccer nearly her entire life.
The 13-year-old’s mom, Kim Horton, can remember her pushing a soccer ball around the house when she was only 3. As she got older, she joined various leagues including Columbia County Parks and Recreation and the Bulls Soccer Club where she plays now. She also hopes to one day play for the University of Georgia.
“I have just stuck with it because it’s such an enjoyable sport,” she said.
In March 2018, the left striker was playing in a tournament when she felt her knee pop. She visited the trainer on site who told her it was okay and she continued to play. After problems with her knee continued, they visited a doctor who ordered an MRI and said her anterior cruciate ligament was torn.
The ACL is not necessarily used to do simple tasks such as walking but is needed for rigorous physical activity like playing soccer. Doctors initially said it was a partial tear but later told her it was a complete tear. She was able to continue playing as long as she wore a brace and participated in physical therapy. When she was told that surgery was not recommended for someone her age due to growth, her mom decided to seek a different opinion.
That’s when they found Dr. Cliff Willimon, the Medical Director of Orthopedic Quality and Outcomes and a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. After visiting him at the hospital’s Athens location, Kenzie learned that she could have surgery to repair her ACL. Willimon said he does surgeries on adolescents weekly.
“He was completely comfortable doing the surgery,” Kim said. “There wasn’t any concern with her age.”
Willimon said ACLs will not heal on their own and while delaying surgery has been recommended in the past, it is difficult for children and adolescents to restrict activities while they wait and can cause further damage.
After undergoing surgery and physical therapy, Kenzie was able to return to the field Aug. 29 — the one year anniversary of her surgery. Not only was she able to compete but also scored a goal for the team. Last weekend, she scored three goals in a game. She said she is extremely grateful for the work Willimon was able to do to get her back on the field.
“It really feels like I can do anything now,” she said. “That’s probably the hardest thing I will ever go through.”