Erin Billingsby, Tendon Recipient
Becoming injured can be very traumatic, especially for an athlete. Unfortunately, I learned first handed how devastating it could be.
Soccer has always a major part of my life since my first game at the age of 8. From there my dad and I logged thousands of hours going to practices, travel games, private lessons, tournaments, camps, whatever it took to make me the best I could be. The single minded focus paid off. I will never forget the day I was told I would be receiving a scholarship to play soccer at East Tennessee State University. My whole freshman year I battled hard to finally become the starting goalkeeper for the Buccaneers (Go Bucs!). Once I had my first season under my belt, spring training came. I was doing so well and excited to be able go into my Sophomore year as the starting goalkeeper. That quickly changed when during a spring practice I came out for a break away, I cut towards the ball too hard and I felt the most unforgettable audible “pop” in my left knee. As soon as I went down, I knew it was serious from the look on my trainer’s face.
My doctor gave me a few options for surgery to repair the ACL that had been torn in my knee. One common option was to take ligaments from my own body to repair the torn one. Another option, one I had never heard of, was to replace my torn ACL with the patellar tendon from someone who was an organ and tissue donor. The Doctor explained to me that this tendon, not coming from me, would be stronger, and I would have a shorter recovery time since I wouldn’t have to recover from taking my own ligaments. I took the donor graft surgery. After 5 months of rehab and training, I regained my starting position again! If I had not had a tendon transplant, my recovery could have taken anywhere from 6-8 months and ruined my chances of playing soccer.
After finishing out my Junior year I was super anxious for my Senior year. What an accomplishment to be able to graduate college in four years as a Division I Athlete with a business major. Then, once again during a Spring training practice I jumped for a ball and landed a little too hard, and I felt the same sickening “pop” in my knee. I knew exactly what was to follow, and I knew it could be done, but this was about to be my Senior year! I decided to have another tendon transplant. I knew it would be the best option to get me on the field at least one more time to finish out my Senior season.
I went through 5 intense months of rehab, staying at ETSU the whole summer, and not being able to travel with my team my Senior year. Then finally, my opportunity came during the final Conference game. Still to this day I see it as my best game played yet. I played with so much emotion behind me, and from the encouragement I had gotten from my team mates and training staff.
What words can really describe the gift the tissue donor gave me? Without the generosity of the donor I would have faced the heartbreak of all those years of striving to be the best ending injured, on the sideline. By checking “yes” in the donor box they allowed my entire soccer career to end in a memory I will never forget. And I will never forget the person who made it possible.
Since then I’ve learned how important many tissues are in healing patients. Many are used in common every day procedures. Over a million tissue transplants were done in the US last year. I hope to use my experience to inform people and most of all to help them realize we should not take these gifts for granted.
By documenting their decision, my donor allowed my entire soccer career to end in a memory I will never forget. And I will never forget the person who made it possible.