Physical therapy to the rescue
Photos by Ashley Barnas July 05, 2019
Alumna returns to campus after her daughter injures her left knee
It had been more than 20 years since Tonya Avent, Class of 1996, soaked up University of Delaware life as an undergraduate student. But after her daughter Kennedi suffered a serious knee injury while trying to qualify for the National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championship during the summer of 2018, Avent once again became a campus regular — only this time as the mom of a patient at the Delaware Physical Therapy Clinic.
“My kids know that UD is a special place to me, but I never thought there would be this kind of connection as well,” said Avent, a mother of two and project manager for IBM who lives in Swedesboro, N.J. “I remember them having a great PT program when I was here, but I never realized how much they did.”
Kennedi was landing the long jump in the pentathlon when she tore her left posterior cruciate ligament, the band of tissue that connects the thigh bone to the shin bone. It’s an uncommon injury that usually happens during a car accident.
Instead of heading to the Junior Olympic Championships, Kennedi, then 13, went to the hospital.
Because of her age and athletic ambitions, her family wanted to be conservative with treatment. When the orthopedist suggested physical therapy as an option instead of surgery, a friend recommended Kennedi head to UD, home to the No. 1 graduate physical therapy program in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report.
For Avent, it was a homecoming of sorts. “We knew the first day we got here that we had made the right choice,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t someone doing guesswork on her.”
For the month of August, Avent and Kennedi traveled three times a week from Swedesboro to UD for physical therapy, trekking 45 minutes — or more — each way. During her first visit with senior physical therapist Greg Seymour, Kennedi worked at bending her leg. By her third visit, she was starting on crutches.
On her first day of high school in September, she walked into class on her own.
“At first, it was pretty tough because it hurt a lot,” Kennedi said. “I was scared because I didn’t know how fast I was going to recover. It definitely made me more comfortable because my mom went to school there.”
PCL injuries account for only about 3% of all injured knees, Seymour said. Of those, UD’s PT Clinic, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, likely sees more than most because of its extensive history of knee-related research.
Thanks to her hard work and patience, Kennedi expects to make a full recovery. She has been cleared by UD. Her final testing showed she jumped further on her left leg (the one she injured) than her right. The one-year injury anniversary of her injury is July 12, and that’s when she plans to start working out with her high school volleyball team.
Her rehabilitation success sparked the idea of perhaps pursuing a health-related career and maybe even following in her mother’s Blue Hen tracks.
“Seeing where I am now and how fast I have recovered, it’s pretty unbelievable,” she said. “I’m pretty grateful for it all.”