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A second chance at fulfilling a dream: Jillian’s story

July 20, 2012

What started as a childhood dream is now becoming a reality for Jillian in her lifelong pursuit of becoming a gymnast. She began gymnastics at just 3 years old, and began competing at age 6. Fast forward a few years and Jillian is in high school, dreaming of taking her gymnastics career to the next level and becoming a collegiate athlete. She was having the time of her life- spending countless hours practicing and competing in a sport she loved, surrounded by encouraging friends and family. She was starting to be pursued by various colleges and felt more confident than ever, knowing nothing could get in the way of her dream of becoming a collegiate gymnast.

On October 8, 2010, her confidence was shaken. Jillian was competing in a gymnastics event, something she had done many times before, when the world she knew came crashing down. She was competing in the uneven bars event, when she fell and dislocated her elbow and was rushed to a nearby hospital shortly after.

When Jillian looked at her misshapen elbow for the first time, she said the first thing that crossed her mind was, “am I going to be able to continue competing in gymnastics? I have a recruiting visit this weekend!” Jillian’s father, Dave, met them at the hospital and wondered if she would even gain full use of her arm again, given how mangled it looked.

Several months after Jillian’s injury, both Jillian and Dave noticed her elbow was not healing properly. Despite a variety of treatments, including physical therapy, Jillian was still unable to fully close or open her arm, enabling her to compete to her full capacity. It was at this time that Jillian’s orthopedic doctors encouraged her and her dad to seek out a second opinion, and was referred to Dr. Jay Albright, former director of Sports Medicine and an orthopedic surgeon at Arnold Palmer Hospital.

After their first appointment with Dr. Albright, Jillian and Dave knew that he was the right surgeon for Jillian and both were confident that he could fix Jillian’s elbow. “The first thing we heard Dr. Albright say was, ‘Her arm is crooked. Isn’t that a deduction in gymnastics?’ After hearing that, we knew everything was going to be okay,” Jillian says. Dr. Albright’s confidence in his plan for Jillian’s elbow and interest he took in Jillian and her dreams of being a collegiate gymnast quickly put both Jillian and her dad at ease and gave them hope for a successful outcome.

Just 3 months after surgery, Jillian was better than ever- Dr. Albright was able to restore full extension in her elbow and she was back to competing in various gymnastics events. After being faced with the idea of potentially losing the opportunity to further her gymnastics career after her injury, Jillian’s desire to continue in the sport is stronger now more than ever, with a big thanks to Dr. Albright.

Just a few months ago, Jillian’s gymnastics dream came true when she signed with the University of Kentucky and joined their gymnastics team on a full athletic scholarship. Dr. Albright was there to celebrate this special day with Jillian and her family- a day Jillian will never forget.

When asked about Dr. Albright, you could hear excitement in Jillian’s voice. She says, “I have so much respect for him. He came to my signing which meant a lot to me. It showed me that I wasn’t just another surgery and that he cared about me as an individual. He even showed a genuine interest in my desire to pursue a medical degree and sent me pictures of my surgery to help inspire me. I don’t know what I would’ve done without him.”

Two days after graduating high school, Jillian was off to the University of Kentucky to begin her dream as a collegiate athlete. Despite her injury, the uneven bars are still her favorite event and she is anxious to begin competing on the college level. Jillian is unstoppable, and has proved that nothing can get in the way of her dreams.

*Dr. Albright is no longer a physician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children