Meet the Patients: Cheerleader Tumbles Strong After Hand Surgery

Madison Kutyla can barely remember a time when competitive cheerleading wasn’t a big part of her life.

“Starting in second grade, I was on an all-star team and competed on weekends in a league,” the 15 year old said. “I’ve always loved cheerleading and tumbling.”

Last football season, she was thrilled to cheer with the Lexington High School varsity squad as a freshman. But during the first game of the season, a tumbling pass on uneven grass landed badly, with a hard impact on Madison’s right hand. She tried to ice her hand and shake off the pain. Injuries can be common with the intensity of the sport at a high level. But this time was different.

“I couldn’t move my hand,” she said. “It looked normal at first, but then it swelled up like a huge balloon.” At Lexington Medical Center’s Emergency department, an X-ray revealed a fracture in her right ring finger and a more serious injury to the middle finger joint.

“I cracked my middle finger knuckle in half,” Madison explained. “You could definitely see on the X-ray that it was going to be a while before I could get back to cheering.”

It wasn’t Madison’s first tumbling-related injury. Just eight months earlier, she dislocated and broke a finger on her left hand.

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David K. Lee, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at Southeastern Orthopedic and Sports Medicine, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice, helped her return to top form after her left hand injury. So, that’s where Madison and her parents turned for expertise to treat her right hand.

Dr. Lee told Madison she would need surgery to heal completely. “I tried to remain calm, but I was definitely upset,” she said.

According to Dr. Lee, the middle finger injury was particularly challenging because the damage to the joint could lead to post-traumatic arthritis early in life.

“The spot where Madison broke it could lead to future instability of that joint. If we hadn’t fixed it, she wouldn’t have good function in that hand,” Dr. Lee said. “Between the two injuries, you would look at the finger fracture and think, ‘That’s a bad break.’ But from the standpoint of the future, the joint injury was even more important to treat carefully.”

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For the hand break, Dr. Lee surgically placed two screws to hold the bone in place and allow it to heal. Because Madison wanted to get back to her squad right away, he surgically placed pins under the skin on the middle finger joint, rather than using external pins, a treatment that may have been more typical for a different patient.

“She couldn’t cheer with those pins on the outside,” Dr. Lee said.

Madison said Dr. Lee respected her priority of getting back to cheering.

“I could tell he understood I wanted to be back as soon as possible,” Madison said. “He fixed my hand so I could tumble and cheer safely, and without pain.”

“My ultimate goal in sports medicine is to get patients healthy and happy,” Dr. Lee said. “With a young athlete, I don’t want him or her to feel like he or she is compromising anything because of an injury.”

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Madison’s mom Sally said Dr. Lee also worked to understand the mechanics of what Madison’s sport requires of her hands. As a “base” on the squad, she uses her hands to hold other girls’ ankles on her shoulders, performs cradle catches and does a range of tumbling moves requiring strength and agility.

“We knew he was going to do all he could to get her back,” Sally said. “As her skill level gets higher, the risk of injury is higher; but she loves cheerleading and wants to keep returning to it. She’s in good hands with Dr. Lee.”

After surgery, occupational therapy helped Madison regain strength and flexibility in her fingers.

Just over a month after her fall, Madison was cleared to tumble again. “I had practice the day I was cleared, and it was really nice to be back,” she said.

Dr. Lee says that athletic drive to achieve a high level of physical performance makes his job fun. “I want my patients to return to what they love and have a good quality of life.”

That mindset has inspired Madison. She’s decided that she wants to study sports medicine in college and help athletes like herself one day.

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