Luke Gets a Second Chance

MUSC Children's Health
November 18, 2019
Youth in full gear playing football.

Luke Thomas loves playing sports. At 11 years of age, he was very active and played many sports including soccer, swimming, surfing, biking and football.

About a year ago he came home from football practice with a fever and then was stricken with pneumonia. Finally, the fever broke, and he was released to go back to school. But while he felt much better, something unusual was happening. He could walk, but he couldn’t run.

His mother knew something was wrong. She took him to see his pediatrician, who thought he might have a hip problem. His parents thought he might be experiencing growing pains.

But his mother, Tara, who has spent most of her career in healthcare, felt something else was going on. She said he had not had any symptoms of anything. He simply felt pain in his left knee and couldn’t run. They tried icing his knee but Luke still couldn’t run without pain.

A colleague recommended that she take Luke to see Dr. Murphy. Robert Murphy, M.D., is a board-certified pediatric orthopaedic surgeon, at MUSC Children’s Health.

Bone scans and X-rays had confirmed what Dr. Murphy suspected, Luke had osteochondritis dissecans, which affected his knee. While there is no single cause for the disease, it commonly presents after a sports activity or injury. Often, it includes stress to the bone and joint and reduced blood supply to the affected area. It usually occurs in children and teens and can be more common in boys and children who play sports.

Dr. Murphy said Luke needed to stop all running and impact sports for at least eight weeks. He had Luke wear a knee brace to keep the knee joint stabilized. Luke alternately iced and put heat on his leg a couple times a day. He also started physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around his knee joint.

He was able to swim but couldn’t do the breast stroke. What was most challenging for Luke was the loss of playing football, his favorite sport.

He was finally released to start running on February 14. Slowly, he started running again and getting back into the sports he loved. Speed had always been Luke’s friend, and he struggled to get back to where he wanted to be.

Image of Luke on the Appalachian Trail.In March, he hiked 32 miles on the Appalachian Trail, wearing the same blue shorts he had worn to all his doctor appointments.

His mother sent Dr. Murphy a photo of Luke hiking with this note, “Luke was so stoked to take these pictures for you! He actually loved wearing the blue shorts and hiked in them all day on the first day (8.5 miles) and all day on the last day (8 miles)!”

Over time, healing began to occur, and he went through a major growth period. While he was getting taller, he still had to be cautious and mindful of everything he’d been going through. Through everything, he struggled to achieve the confidence he once had.

Luke’s mother Tara said, “Dr. Murphy was able to give him the confidence he needed and slowly Luke was returning to the level of sports activities that he loved.

Reflecting on their experience at MUSC Children’s Health, she said, “Dr. Murphy is very thorough and very up front. He always answered all our questions, and he made sure that Luke understood what would happen if he didn’t wear the brace. He helped put the onus on Luke to follow instructions.”

Her note to Dr. Murphy summed up how they felt, “Thanks for all your loving care. It made a big difference in this little boy’s life! Oh, and he scored the first goal in his soccer game on Saturday!”

About the Author

MUSC Children's Health

Keywords: Childrens Health, Orthopaedics