Wide receiver Christian Jones was running a route during spring practice that he had run at least 100 times before. This time, the turf held his foot and his knee twisted. The Westfield High junior went down.
At first, the ESPN.com four-star recruit wasn’t sure what had happened.
“It wasn’t a pain, but a really awkward feeling I didn’t know,” said Jones.
After visiting two physicians, the diagnosis was a torn ACL. With at least eight scholarship offers to play Division I college football, Jones wondered if he would ever play again. If he could, would he still have the speed to run his 4.6-second 40-yard dash?
That’s when Westfield coach Corby Meekins referred Jones to orthopedic surgeon Walter R. Lowe, MD, who is affiliated with the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute. Dr. Lowe is Houston’s only practicing orthopedic surgeon in the ACL Study Group. This elite group of 200 U.S. and international orthopedic surgeons focuses on advancing the science of ACL injury treatments and surgical reconstruction.
During his initial visit with Dr. Lowe, Jones learned how his ACL could be repaired. He also gained an understanding of how major colleges might view his injury.
“It was a really hard talk,” said Dr. Lowe of his conversation with the honor student. “I told Christian he couldn’t control the outcome of the scholarship offers. I said the best thing he could do is get well and the rest will take care of itself. I remember how realistic and accepting he was.”
“You can tell Dr. Lowe really cares about his patients,” said Jones. “He said it was possible to play football again, but I’d have to work really hard. I said ‘I’m ready, let’s do the surgery.’”
Dr. Lowe selected a bone-tendon-bone graft for Jones. During this arthroscopic surgery, the central portion of the patellar tendon is removed. Then the ends of the tendon are attached to bone plugs from the patella and tibia. Bone tunnels are created for the new graft.
“This is the type of graft you see in high-end athletes, like NFL players,” said Dr. Lowe. “It’s the graft with the lowest re-tear rate. Because we use the patient’s own bones and bone tunnels, it heals quickly.”
Dr. Lowe credits Jones’ successful recovery to the athlete’s understanding of the surgery and his willingness to work hard during rehabilitation. His rehabilitation team included Dr. Lowe’s athletic trainer, David Viaclovsky, L.A.T., and three physical therapists – Jennifer, Wade and Lindsey – at Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation.
“Working with Jennifer, Wade and Lindsey was a blast,” said Jones. “They taught me a lot about the importance of doing exercises to keep the muscles around the knee strong. They didn’t make it all about rehab though. They got to know me. I got to know them. We’re still in touch today.”
“We make that personal connection with all our patients,” said Viaclovsky. “We want to see them get back to what they love.”
Returning to football couldn’t come fast enough for Jones. As his senior year began, he helplessly watched his teammates play. College recruiters stopped calling. “The psychological part is the biggest hurdle,” said Jones.
“He had to dig deep within,” said his mother, Tammye Curtis-Jones. “Christian realized how blessed and fortunate he was to have such great medical care from Dr. Lowe and his wonderful staff. So he started tutoring inner city boys to give back.”
Five months after his injury, Jones returned to play, contributing a solid catch to the Westfield Mustangs. Currently a freshman at Illinois’ Northwestern University, he is averaging 14.7 yards per catch. Named the big playmaker against Michigan, he totaled three catches for 68 yards, including a career-long 39-yarder.
The 217-pound receiver, known for his wide grin, feels stronger than ever and is happy to be playing football. Wiser from his experience, Jones offers this advice to injured athletes: “You can always fight back to play, so don’t give up.”