Select Lauren’s Story: Dedicated Alpine Skier Back on the Slopes After ACL Injury Lauren’s Story: Dedicated Alpine Skier Back on the Slopes After ACL Injury

Lauren Waskowitz, 15, is a high school student and alpine skier at Carrabassett Valley Academy in Maine. Originally from the Pittsburgh area, Lauren decided the private ski and snowboard academy would allow her to excel in both academics and athletics, hopefully leading to a collegiate skiing career.

But during her freshman year in January 2023, Lauren sustained an unexpected injury. She was training one Saturday morning, feeling particularly exhausted, when her ski clipped one of the gates.

“It spun me around, and I heard a crack in my knee,” Lauren says. “I couldn’t get up after that, and ski patrol put me on a sled to carry me off the slope. There was a rushing pain in my knee. It was completely unstable and swelling up like a balloon.”

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Finding Care While Far from Home

Lauren received immediate care in Maine, including evaluation by her team’s athletic trainer, an MRI, and a diagnosis of a full ACL tear in her right knee. But when it came to choosing a surgeon, Lauren and her mom, Lisa, decided to seek care in Pittsburgh at UPMC.

“Our next-door neighbor suggested Dr. Vyas, and so did parents of Lauren’s teammates,” says Lisa. “I read his patient profiles online and saw many young athletes. For me that was really important. It was a no-brainer to bring Lauren home for surgery.”

Dharmesh Vyas, MD, PhD, is an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in the care of athletes of all ages and experience levels. Thanks to teammates’ familiarity with Dr. Vyas and coordination with his administrative assistant, Rachal Seibel, Lauren and Lisa had an appointment with Dr. Vyas just two days after the initial injury at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township, Pa.

“Rachal was awesome with coordinating care, getting the medical records from Maine, and going back and forth with us so frequently. She was my go-to,” says Lisa.

Lauren needed to return to Maine and school as soon as possible, so Dr. Vyas scheduled her surgery less than a week after the initial visit. At UPMC Shadyside, Dr. Vyas performed a successful full ACL reconstruction on the right knee using Lauren’s patellar tendon.

“Dr. Vyas really set Lauren up for success,” Lisa says.

Rehabilitation and Returning to the Slopes

Nine months of physical therapy typically follows reconstruction, which was Lauren’s case.

She stayed in Pittsburgh for another two weeks after surgery, doing her schoolwork online and seeing a physical therapist who Dr. Vyas recommended. Lauren worked with Kaitlin Devan, PT, DPT, at UPMC Rehabilitation Institute: Harmarville on individualized physical therapy to strengthen her knee, including blood flow restriction therapy.

When it was time to return to school, Lauren worked with an athletic trainer and physical therapist in Maine to continue her rehab, both of whom coordinated with Kaitlin on the plan.

She worked with Kaitlin again when she returned home for spring and summer break, and then with her local Maine team for the last few months of rehab as she began her sophomore year of high school.

In the last two or so months of physical therapy, Lauren was able to use a ski simulator at school, starting to incorporate moves specific to skiing back into her workouts.

Nine months after surgery to the day, Lauren was back on skis, training with her team in Colorado. After the successful surgery and intense physical therapy, she shares that her right knee feels “ten times more stable” than it did even before the injury.

“It surprised me how supportive everyone was through the process,” Lauren says. “I thought the level of care was really, really good and that everyone was rooting for me the whole way. I still aim to ski at a collegiate level after high school and am looking forward to my first race representing Carrabassett Valley Academy.”

“I just really wanted to say how Lauren and everyone around her rallied, and she had a great support system, not only at school, but with all of the medical professionals involved,” mom Lisa says. “Everybody at UPMC has been so accommodating and helpful.”

For more information about UPMC Sports Medicine and its ACL Program, or to schedule an appointment, please call 1-855-937-7678.

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.