Had she remained healthy, Manheim Township senior Ariana Baublitz likely would’ve been the third-leading scorer on the Blue Streaks’ girls lacrosse team this spring.
“She was the most dynamic driver we had,” Manheim Township coach Mark Pinkerton said of Baublitz. “She’s phenomenally quick. Her burst is so fast.”
Baublitz instead stood on the sidelines Saturday as her teammates competed in the state championship. She’s still recovering from season-ending surgery to the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Baublitz’s injury, however, is the fact her surgery was performed by her father, Dr. Seth Baublitz, an orthopaedic surgeon with Orthopaedic Specialists of Central Pennsylvania.
In his 16 years in the profession, Seth Baublitz estimates he’s performed various surgeries on a handful of family members and likely close to 1,000 ACL surgeries overall.
But the April 15 surgery he did on Ariana was unlike others.
“It is a different conversation,” Seth Baublitz said. “You’re harder on your child. You have a little higher expectation.”
The ACL connects the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia), and prevents those bones from extending beyond a normal angle, or over-rotation.
A 2013 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics reported a steady increase in the number of ACL tears among athletes younger than 18 over the course of a 20-year period. Depending on the sport, ACL tears are two to 10 times greater risk to females.
“In particular with females we think there’s a hormonal influence,” Seth Baublitz said. “There’s the anatomy of the knee, and a muscular imbalance. You see a lot of programs to train kids to get them strong and prevent the ACL. At the end of the day, if you’re in the type of situation like my daughter is in where you’re trying to catch a ball and your leg is standing and your body is going the other way, it’s going to happen.”
In more than 70% of occurrences, ACL tears are noncontact injuries, according to the 2013 study. This was the case for Ariana Baublitz when she reached to receive a pass during a game at William Penn Charter on the Saturday morning of April 10.
“I went to reach it and my leg then twisted outward and I heard three cracks,” she said. “I went to the ground and I couldn’t get up.”
Pinkerton immediately knew something was wrong.
“She’s tough as nails,” Pinkerton said. “Ariana is a kid who gets knocked down all the time and she’s always back up. So we knew it was probably going to be bad.”
No second opinion
An MRI the ensuing Monday confirmed a torn ACL in the left knee. Her dad recommended surgery, performed by him.
Ariana Baublitz didn’t seek a second opinion or surgeon.
“He was fine with it. I was fine with it,” Ariana Baublitz said. “Other people were like, ‘Wow, isn’t he nervous?’ He’s done surgery on a lot of our family members. So it’s nothing new for him.”
“I don’t say this in any braggadocious way,” Seth Baublitz said. “I know I’ve been doing it a long time. That’s my specialty. I wasn’t going to trust her with that (ACL surgery) with anybody else.”
Still, Seth Baublitz admits the surgery, “was a rather surreal experience.”
“I’m operating on my daughter,” he said. “You try to block that out. You’re trying to focus. It’s a knee. You’ve done a thousand of these. Do it like you normally would.”
Seth Baublitz provided a detailed, step-by-step description of the surgery. For the sake of brevity, here’s a summary:
A sliver of tissue can be taken from either the quadriceps tendon, hamstring or patellar bone. That tissue is substituted for the new ACL. The rest of the procedure is done arthroscopically through a camera, implanting the new strip of tissue in the knee. The next step is relatively new.
Referred to as a fertilized ACL, cells are taken from the patients’ own blood and bone marrow and injected around the new tissue, which helps speed recovery.
A return to sports after ACL surgery usually takes four to six months.
“We’re starting to see some fabulous things in terms of potential recovery with the fertilized ACL technique,” Seth Baublitz said.
Road to recovery
Initially on crutches in the immediate days after surgery, Ariana Baublitz said she stopped feeling pain in the knee about four weeks out. She’s now seven weeks removed from surgery and has physical therapy two days a week.
“I can do all normal daily activities except sports,” she said. “I just can’t turn side to side. I can run if I would want to. But not for long distances.”
Seth Baublitz said the experience of seeing his daughter recover also has made him a better doctor.
“When I operate on my regular patients, I usually don’t hear from them until I see them back in 10 days for their first post-op visit,” he said. “But every little facet of this, I was there to exhibit. So when she’s there having pain, waking us up in the middle of the night saying she can’t sleep because she’s in pain. ... It’s not often you hear about that from your patients.”
Ariana Baublitz is not playing lacrosse after high school. As a result, the injury and surgery meant the end of her playing career.
“It was sad,” she said. “I knew there was nothing I could really do about it. I just had to accept it and learn from it. “
A medical family history
A part of the reason Ariana Baublitz decided not to play at the next level is due to the likely demands from a challenging courseload. She’ll attend Elon University in North Carolina in the fall, with plans to major in biology in hopes to one day become a doctor.
“I don’t know what kind yet,” she said. “Something in the medical field.”
It’s only fitting considering the family history in medicine. Both of her parents are physicians. So is a maternal uncle, two paternal aunts, both maternal grandparents, a maternal great aunt and uncle and a maternal cousin. There also are four other relatives who are nurses.
“So I’ve grown up around that,” Ariana Baublitz said. “I was interested in that, and I was interested in what they were doing.”
And in a sense, she now has first-hand experience through having undergone her own ACL surgery.
Asked what she’s learned from the ordeal, Ariana Baublitz said, “I have more of an appreciation for other athletes who are injured because I know what they’re going through.”
That thinking correlates at the Baublitz’s Manheim Township home, as Seth Baublitz also is recovering from ACL surgery to his right knee that he underwent two weeks after performing surgery on Ariana.
“It’s nice that I’ve gone through it so I can know what he’s feeling,” Ariana Baublitz said. “If I would not have had this injury I would not honestly feel for him or understand what he’s going through.”