Soccer injury leads to an unexpected blessing for Makayla

Makayla Patterson (seated, center), daughter of Belva (standing, center) and Jeff Wemark and Bill Patterson, is pictured with her younger brother, Brayden, Dr. David Gehling, Decorah chiropractor (left), and Kelli Rueckert, WMC Athletic Trainer (right).

Makayla Patterson is an active high school junior, who, through most of her budding high school career, could be found on an athletic field or court.

Then, she injured her neck at an away soccer game, and everything changed.

“Going for the ball, I flipped and landed on my neck,” says Makayla. “I blacked out, but remember waking up the athletic trainer examining me.   I laid there for about 10 minutes before he allowed me to move.”

Makayla and her mother sought care from Decorah chiropractor David Gehling, who obtained x-rays of her neck. He says, “I saw two vertebrae in her neck nearly fused together. I knew that I needed to get further diagnostic studies, so I sent Makalya to Winneshiek Medical Center for additional x-rays and a CT scan.” Makayla also began physical therapy with Winneshiek Medical Center physical therapist Dennis Keefe, D.P.T, and athletic trainer Kelli Rueckert, ATC, LAT, CSCS.

The additional x-rays and CT images performed at Winneshiek Medical Center and interpreted by local Mayo Clinic Health System radiologist, Richard Remark, M.D., confirmed Dr. Gehling’s initial suspicion: Makayla had a mild case of Klippel-Feil syndrome. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, Klippel-Feil syndrome is a rare skeletal disorder primarily characterized by abnormal union or fusion of two or more bones of the spinal column (vertebrae) within the neck. Common symptoms of Klippel Feil syndrome include short neck, low hairline at the back of the head, and restricted mobility of the upper spine. The disorder is present at birth, but mild cases may go undiagnosed until later during life when symptoms worsen or first become apparent. In Makayla’s case, the soccer injury was the avenue of discovery of her disorder.

Makayla and her family consulted with pediatric neurosurgeons, and they determined that surgery was not necessary. Makayla’s mother, Belva Wemark, says, “Since there is a small space between the vertebrae and she was able to move normally, we had never noticed symptoms of the disorder before.” Belva adds, “Although it is a shock to learn your child has a genetic disorder, the soccer injury proved to be a real blessing to keep her safe going forward.”

To avoid injuring her neck, which could initiate the symptoms of Klippel-Feil syndrome, Makayla decided to step away from sports for a time and work in the health care field. “I took a CNA course and work at a local nursing home. I am still active, just in a different, safer way,” she says. “It has been a few months since the soccer accident, and I miss sports. I am planning to return to soccer in the spring, understanding my limitations,” she adds.

Importance of athletic physicals

Dr. Gehling believes that parents and student athletes should take preventive measures seriously. He says, “Most health care facilities offer athletic physicals, which schools require for all students participating in sports. Winneshiek Medical Center goes the extra mile and the athletic trainers include a musculoskeletal screen for no extra cost. These exams are the first step in understanding the physical health of the athlete each year, and possibly noticing a condition before it causes injury – which could affect the season, and potentially beyond.”

The difference of local care

Dr. Gehling, Kelli Rueckert and Makayla’s family believe that the personal attention of local providers made a difference in her care. Kelli says, “Good communication between providers is of the utmost importance in complex situations. Makayla is still active, participating in PE and a few sports camps. Knowing her history and treatment with Dr. Gehling helps me keep track of her – and help her stay safe – during the school year.”

Dr. Gehling agrees, saying, “Makayla has a rare condition. It took all of us working together to provide the best care for our patient. Kelli attended appointments with the family at my office, I collaborated with WMC radiology staff and Dr. Remark; we shared knowledge, care plans and progress. Regardless of which organization we are affiliated with, our work was all for Makayla.”

To schedule an appointment for an athletic physical at Winneshiek Medical Center, which includes the optional musculoskeletal screen, call Winneshiek Medical Center at 563-382-2911, Ossian Clinic at 563-532-9500, or the Mabel Clinic at 507-493-5115, or request an appointment online:

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