Glen Sather clinic helps athletes, public tackle their injuries

One-stop-shop services allow UAlberta varsity athletes to go from walking wounded to all-star status.

Jeannine Guérette - 12 December 2014

"Completely devastated" is how Stacie Becker felt when physicians at the University of Alberta's Glen Sather Sports Medicine Clinic told her that she would need ACL reconstruction surgery-her second in less than two years.

Becker, who plays prop on the U of A Pandas rugby team, had just completed 15 months of rehab following surgery on her right knee when she sustained a second ligament tear just one month after returning to the pitch.

It was a devastating blow, physically and mentally.

"In 2011, when I tore my first ACL, I don't think I fully understood the scope of the injury, but I definitely did the second time," remembers Becker. "I felt incredibly discouraged when they gave me the news. I thought to myself, 'Well, it's going to take a year to rehab anyway,' so I didn't really feel any motivation."

Fortunately, Becker regained her sense of determination, and with the help of a team of experts from the Glen Sather clinic, pushed herself down the road to recovery and becoming an all-star.

Varsity athletes sparked vision for clinic

The Glen Sather clinic was founded over 25 years ago with varsity athletes in mind and quickly established itself as one of Canada's premier sports medicine centres.

"We came from humble beginnings, but now the clinic has grown into a state-of-the-art facility housing surgeons, doctors, physiotherapists and more," says David Reid, an orthopedic surgeon and the clinic's founding director.

Reid performed both of Becker's ACL reconstruction surgeries and understands the importance of returning to play.

"Varsity athletes, in particular, are really fortunate because they are on campus, so their access to treatment can be immediate."

Ben Lysak, a fullback for the Golden Bears football team, credits his full and speedy recovery to the clinic's team of health professionals whose expertise spans multiple disciplines. After rupturing his pectoral muscle bench-pressing at an offseason training session, he was rushed to the Glen Sather clinic to meet with his sports medicine physician to make arrangements for surgery. He would later complete all his physiotherapy at the clinic as well.

"Because I went to the Glen Sather so soon after my injury, and kept going there regularly two or three times a week, I was able to come back stronger and sooner. Even my strength and conditioning coach was surprised to see how strong I came back," says Lysak.

So strong, in fact, Lysak says he's able to focus on performance without worrying too much of re-injury.

"Even though my former injury is always in the back of my mind, knowing that I have such a great care-team at the Sather, gives me confidence to trust my body and to keep training hard."

Glen Sather clinic not just for elite athletes

The Glen Sather Clinic wasn't just established for varsity athletes; it was also designed to serve everyday Albertans.

Glen Sather Sports Medicine Clinic.

"When the clinic was founded, we did not want it to be elitist. We wanted to make sure we could take the principals that we gained from treating professional and varsity athletes and apply them at the grassroots level," explains Reid. "Are the systems perfectly identical? Not exactly, largely because varsity athletes are already on campus; however, it is intended to be identical and the public can get treated by all the same surgeons, physicians, physiotherapists and other health professionals."

One benefit for all patients is in the clinic's one-stop-shop approach.

"We try to arrange our appointments so that patients can see more than one expert in the same day or even in the same visit. This is especially important for those coming in from out of town," explains Reid.

"Typically, a general practitioner would need to write a letter to the specialist if they want to refer a patient, but here, our physicians and physiotherapists can refer patients to our surgeons directly. Alternatively, I may also send one of my patients for treatment with one of our physiotherapists," Reid explains. "This team approach within our clinic is a very special dynamic we do our best to foster," he adds.

Unfinished business on the pitch

In 2013, while Becker was rehabilitating her second ACL injury, the Pandas captured the CIS championship at the University of Laval in Quebec-a victory she had always craved but was forced to watch from the sidelines.

"I was really happy for my team when I heard the news, but a small part of me was sad I couldn't be a part of it," says Becker. "The year before, we had placed third in CIS and I remember thinking how badly I wanted to win the championship and make the CIS All-Star team. This gave me motivation to come back strong for my last year of eligibility."

For the next year, Becker would work closely with Alex Yaworski, varsity physiotherapist at the Glen Sather clinic and alumna of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.

"Working with Alex was really great. She took time to listen to my goals and pushed me to meet them by breaking them down into smaller goals," says Becker. "I wasn't good at jumping, for example, and she would tell me that if I wanted to play again, I would need to get through this stage. It was tough to hear, but it really kept me moving forward."

"Undergoing this kind of rehab after surgery requires a certain element of grit, which Stacie showed," says Yaworski. "She had already lost up to two years just rehabbing, so the fact that she was so dedicated to get back to high-level sport, knowing what long road lay ahead, is a testament to her character."

Becker came back in fall 2014 for what would be her final season with the Pandas. After winning the CanWest title, her team would go on to compete for the CIS championship in Guelph, Ontario. Though the Pandas didn't take first place, Becker led her team in tries-scored and was named to the CIS all-star team.

"Recovery is possible, you just have to celebrate the highs and can't take the lows to heart," says Becker. "Most importantly, keep your goal in mind and don't be afraid to work hard for it."