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Girl on the Go: One Athlete’s Story of Recovery

July 10, 2024

More than three million girls in the U.S. play at least one high school sport. Among the most popular are volleyball, soccer and softball. Penny Kline plays all three. The 14-year-old Geneseo girl started playing sports when she was just six years old. Now she can’t wait to join the teams at Geneseo High School when she starts her freshman year there this fall.

“I just love playing sports,” Penny said. “I love winning, but even when we lose, I learn more about the game and get smarter.”

For Penny, the past few years have brought many wins, losses and unfortunately, injuries. The first was when she was just a fifth grader playing in a club league soccer tournament against a team of older girls in what turned into a very physical game.

“I was tripped by a player from the other team,” Penny explained. “The trainer initially cleared me to keep playing and said my knee may just be bruised. When it still didn’t feel right after more than a week, we decided to get it checked out.”

Sidelined by injury

One of Penny’s teammates recommended she turn to Dr. Kristyn Darmafall and the experts at Orthopaedic Specialists and Mississippi Valley Surgery Center (MVSC). Dr. Darmafall, a board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeon with extensive experience in sports-related injuries, takes special care when it comes to young patients whose bodies are still growing and developing.

Dr. Darmafall diagnosed Penny’s knee injury as a torn ACL with a partially torn meniscus. Connecting the thigh bone to the shinbone, the ACL is a ligament that stabilizes the knee. Full tears can be caused by physical contact or during activities that involve sudden stops or changes in direction, like soccer.

Nationwide, girls experience serious knee injuries such as ACL tears at much higher rates than boys participating in the same sports. Doctors believe their young bodies aren’t fully developed enough to handle the demands of intense physical activity.

Though she was in the middle of her season, Penny was forced to slow down and undergo surgery on the torn ACL. The meniscus – cartilage that acts like a cushion in the knee – didn’t need treatment just yet.

“I took it one step at a time,” said Penny. “I started physical therapy leading up to my surgery.”

Dr. Darmafall performed the surgery at MVSC, the area’s largest multi-specialty outpatient surgery center, located in Davenport. With a personalized and convenient experience for patients and family members alike, MVSC provides predictable scheduling and same-day discharge, allowing patients like Penny to recover comfortably at home – with after-care support from her parents.

“The staff at MVSC was so supportive and communicated everything to us,” said Valerie Kline, Penny’s mom. “We felt good about the whole process.”

Full recovery took about one year, including months of physical therapy, until Penny had regained her strength enough to join her teammates in the middle of volleyball season.

While running sprints during practice, she felt a familiar pop in her knee. That eventually led to another visit to Dr. Darmafall – this time with a fully torn meniscus. The partially torn tissue from her soccer injury now needed to be repaired with another surgery.

“To see Penny work so hard to recover and then face another setback — it was heartbreaking,” Valerie said. “I missed watching her play, but I knew she was determined to get back out there.”

Recovery from the meniscus repair took about six months, and Penny was back to playing softball. Her team, the Green Xtream ’09, was playing in a tournament championship game when Penny swung at an inside pitch and felt that familiar pop in her knee. Her team went on to win that game, but Penny’s season ended in injury once again. She had torn her ACL a second time.

While unlucky for Penny, it is not uncommon for young athletes. Some studies put the risk of a second ACL injury at about 35 percent. But by now, Penny knew what to expect for surgery and recovery and had confidence Dr. Darmafall would get her back in the game.

“Dr. Darmafall has watched me grow so much in the last three years, and she gives great advice,” said Penny. “I would love to see her again and say thank you, but I hope it’s not for another injury!”

This year, Penny spent her summer playing softball and has remained injury free by taking care of her body with special precautions. She’s working on safer techniques for jumping in volleyball and sliding in softball. The American Association of Pediatrics also recommends strength training to reduce the risk of ligament injury. Penny says it’s worth it to avoid missing another season.

Long term, with the right preventive care, Penny should be able to play sports pain-free for many years to come. That may include playing in college one day.

“We’re so proud of Penny,” said Valerie. “She’s a great athlete, and we know she’s a game changer in so many ways.”

Symptoms of an ACL Tear

  • Feeling or hearing a “pop” in the knee
  • Pain, especially when bearing weight
  • Swelling
  • Loss of full range of motion

Injury Prevention Tips

  • Strength training: Strong muscles support the joints and help the body move with efficiency and control.
  • Good technique: Work with a coach to use proper form in your sport or activity.
  • Avoid overuse: Create a rest and recovery routine that includes stretching.


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