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Sports Injury to Surgical Triumph - One Athlete's Inspiring Comeback Story


Iliana Downing wouldn’t let injury deter her from reaching new heights and reclaiming her athletic dreams. The 17-year-old’s journey began five years ago at a soccer match, when an explosive kick caused a hip fracture, common among young athletes whose growth plates have not fully developed. Though Iliana was advised to take time off for recovery, her desire to play won out. She was already participating in multiple sports when a new endeavor captured her attention: pole vaulting—fitting for a girl nicknamed “Tigger” for her bouncy demeanor.

“I thought pole vaulting looked really different and unique. When I tried it for the first time, I knew right away that I wanted to do it,” Iliana says. “My mom always sees me as someone who’s fearless, and I never felt scared of pole vaulting. It was really exciting and gave me a big adrenaline rush.”

Iliana pole vault

She pushed through the nagging pain in her hip, not realizing that the injury had not properly healed. Eventually, the pain became hard to ignore. It was interfering with her life and her new love of pole vaulting.

After consulting with various specialists, Iliana and her family were directed to V. Salil Upasani, MD, director of the International Center for Pediatric and Adolescent Hip Disorders at Rady Children’s and professor of clinical Orthopedic Surgery at UC San Diego School of Medicine. Dr. Upasani found that an overgrown piece of bone in Iliana’s hip was impeding her mobility. Immediate surgery was necessary if she wanted to pursue her athletic dreams.

The minimally invasive outpatient procedure involved excising the overgrown bone and reattaching one of the primary tendons of her quadriceps muscle using a bioabsorbable bone anchor. She was sent home with a brace and told to use crutches for four weeks.

Although the road to recovery was tough, Iliana was determined to get back to pursuing her athletics. Thanks to rigorous rehabilitation sessions and a comprehensive physical therapy program, she was back in action after only a few short months.

Today, Iliana has not only recovered but is thriving. Recently, she showcased her skills and spirit at the USA Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field in Oregon. She placed fourth in her division, which included competing against collegiate athletes, and left a lasting impression on competitors and spectators alike. Learn more about the International Center for Pediatric and Adolescent Hip Disorders at Rady Children’s.