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After two knee surgeries, 13-year-old Kelly is free to be a kid again

13-year-old Kelly Blancett is recovering from her second Medial Patello Femoral Ligament (MPFL) reconstruction surgery—a procedure that has helped correct her patellar instability.
13-year-old Kelly Blancett points to the scars from her most recent Medial Patello Femoral Ligament (MPFL) reconstruction surgery. The surgery, conducted by Orthopaedic Surgeon Jeffrey Macalena, MD, helped correct her patellar instability.

For the first time in years, Kelly Blancett can run like a worry-free kid again—almost.

Kelly, a 13-year-old eighth grader from Minnesota, is recovering from her second Medial Patello Femoral Ligament (MPFL) reconstruction surgery—a procedure that has helped correct her patellar instability. University of Minnesota Health Orthopaedic Surgeon Jeffrey Macalena, MD, led both of Kelly’s surgeries, the most recent of which took place in December.

Since she was a fourth-grader, Kelly has struggled with patellar instability, a condition in which the kneecaps can easily—and painfully—dislocate. For many kids, the anxiety of injuring yourself again can be very discouraging.

“Before I had the surgery, I was afraid of doing anything besides walking,” she said. “I didn’t want to figure skate, which was my passion, I didn’t want to ski and I didn’t want to play sports in gym. I felt very restricted in my choice of activities.” 

Soon after she first dislocated her left knee, Kelly and her mother sought medical help. But after an unsuccessful attempt at physical therapy, Kelly’s first doctor told her that she was too young for the type of surgery she needed. 

The family was referred to Macalena, who now routinely performs these types of surgeries. Eventually, Kelly underwent her first surgery. Six months after the procedure, she had use of her left knee back. She was so thankful she could run and play again that she dressed up as Macalena for “Superhero Day” at her school.

But her freedom was brief. Last fall, while she was playing volleyball, her right knee—the one Kelly always referred to as her “good knee”—also dislocated. 

“It feels like your kneecap is slipping. It pops out and it basically says, ‘Oh shoot, I’m not in my right place,’ and then it snaps back in—and that really hurts,” Kelly said.

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Although the dislocations of Kelly’s right knee cap weren’t as frequent as those she experienced with her left knee, Megan Blancett—Kelly’s mom—decided it was best for Kelly undergo surgery to permanently fix the problem in her right knee, too.

Kelly’s surgery took place in December. She is now recovering, recently stopped using her crutches and is out of her immobilizer brace, which restricted her knee movements. Kelly should be back to full strength in less than two months, Megan said.

Patellar instability like Kelly’s is very common among active kids, Macalena said. When Kelly first injured her left knee while figure skating, she made a quick pivot on her foot and heard a pop in her knee. That motion, Macalena said, is often the cause of knee dislocation.

“The most common cause is a non-contact event,” he said. “Sometimes patient’s knees will get driven out of place by contact. More often, they occur when people pivot on a planted foot. That’s overwhelmingly more common.”

Megan, Kelly’s mom, praised Macalena and the care teams they’ve worked with over the course of several years and two surgeries. University of Minnesota Health staff took extra care to ease Kelly’s sickness while undergoing anesthesia, Megan said, and even mailed the teenager a card after she went home.

“There are so many little things that made it a great experience,” Megan said.

While she’s already a whip-smart 13-year-old, Kelly’s surgeries with Macalena will let her run around like a kid again for years to come.

“I have this elation now. I can run without the burden of thinking I might get hurt,” Kelly said. “I’m so grateful Dr. Macalena has given me my legs back, but I hope I never have to see him again.”