Watching a child being carried off the gym floor on a stretcher is heart-wrenching for any parent. For Jennifer Ellingson of Spring Grove, it was no different. "I didn't even realize the injured player was Nicki at first, but it quickly dawned on me that my daughter was lying on the floor," says Ellingson. "When the athletic trainer, Jessica Morken, looked up and caught my eye, I knew it was serious."
Nicki, an active Spring Grove High School volleyball starter, was responding to a ball that was tipped over the net by the school's biggest volleyball rival, Mabel-Canton, when she fell to the gym floor and hit her head. Nicki says, "I don't really recall what happened, except I can remember hearing myself crying and screaming – the pain must have been terrible. Jess, my trainer, was right there, reassuring me and checking me over."
Following an ambulance ride to La Crosse and testing, including a CT scan, Nicki and her family learned she had suffered a severe skull fracture and a low grade concussion. "After hours in the emergency department, we were able to settle Nicki into her hospital room for the night. It was very late at this point, and when I finally left her room, I just broke down," says Jennifer. "The stress of the night became overwhelming, and I was so worried about my daughter."
Appointments with specialists followed over the next few days, and Nicki left the hospital with staples in her head and a strict care plan. She says, "I missed school the next week, and then began to return to school for half-days, then full days. I didn't have to do my homework for a while and had permission to leave the classroom if the lights were too bright or noise was bothering me." Jessica also became very involved in Nicki's recuperation. "My doctors were in direct communication with Jess and she became very important to getting me back to normal."
Winneshiek Medical Center athletic trainer Jessica Morken covers athletic events for Spring Grove and Mabel-Canton. She worked closely with Nicki as Nicki began to improve. "The doctors provide a care plan, and it is my role to help athletes meet their goals," says Jessica. "We did a gradual return by increasing her activity every day. Nicki was determined to be fully recovered by the first basketball practice; I had to help her pace herself to prevent re-injury. Student athletes generally don't lack motivation to get back on the court!"
With Jessica's help and the support of her school and family, Nicki was cleared to participate in sports the afternoon of the first basketball practice. "I thought I was ready long before, but I guess it was good to take my time and make sure I was healed," says Nicki.
Athletic trainers collaborate with physical therapists, occupational therapists and physicians to optimize activity and participation of student athletes. Athletic trainers from Winneshiek Medical Center are present at many sporting events in Decorah, South Winneshiek, Turkey Valley, Postville, Mabel-Canton, Spring Grove and Luther College.