As twins, Rachel and Rose Dolmovich do everything together. Nobody thought that would include surgery. Basketball has been their passion since they were 5. But identical injuries nearly crushed their dreams in June 2019.
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“I felt like something had moved in my knee. And I collapsed,” says Rachel. “It was really, really painful, and I couldn’t straighten my knee out.”
Moments after jumping to defend a shot during a summer 2019 basketball practice, Rachel says she knew something was wrong as soon as she landed.
Sidelined and awaiting a diagnosis, the Jacksonville, Florida, high school senior was watching her team and her twin sister on the court just days later when Rose endured the same pain and injury.
“It was kind of shocking,” says Rose.
The sisters had torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) ― one of the strong bands that stabilizes the knee and connects the thigh bone, or femur, to the shinbone, or tibia.
“I thought that there was honestly a chance that I was never going to play basketball competitively again,” says Rose.
They would need surgery, physical therapy and time to recover.
“There are certain people who are at higher risk of getting ACL tears. We know young females are at higher risk. There’s some genetics involved with it ― higher-demand sports like basketball, soccer, volleyball,” says Dr. Cedric Ortiguera, an orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic.
Dr. Ortiguera, who repaired both Rachel’s and Rose’s ACLs, estimates more than 150,000 ACL injuries happen in the U.S. every year.
“It was definitely very helpful to have your best friend going through the same thing as you because you’re not alone,” says Rachel.
Then at their high school’s senior night game, with both sisters back in the starting lineup, another setback occurred.
“I was seriously just running in a straight line when I went to turn a little bit,” says Rachel. “I just fell to the ground.”
This injury meant more surgery, possibly jeopardizing Rachel’s future college career.
“It was a much more involved surgery ― what we call a revision surgery, or a second time surgery, but all went well,” says Dr. Ortiguera.
Through pain and persistence, the pair grew stronger. The situation even inspired Rose.
“I had a really awesome physical therapist who was huge inspiration for me ― for both of us,” says Rose. “It made me kind of fall in love with that career. Ever since then, I’ve set my goals on becoming a physical therapist and working with young athletes because I want to be able to impact someone.”
“With their reconstructed knees, I think they could do almost anything they want, including have basketball careers, but more importantly be healthy and active for the rest of their lives,” says Dr. Ortiguera.
Now the sisters find themselves competing together at the same college in Georgia, and their sophomore year could be their best yet.
“Mayo Clinic definitely did their job,” says Rachel. “We’re super grateful for that, and confident because of how well and how successfully these surgeries were performed.”
Her sister echoes these feelings. “I’m on the court, again, with the people I care about ― my team, my best friends. I’m super thankful,” says Rose.
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Originally published on Mayo Clinic News Network.