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A firefighter’s recovery


Kris always knew he wanted to be a firefighter. Growing up across the street from a fire station, he used to watch the fire trucks go by and wonder if he could be part of it someday. After serving with the Marines, Kris moved back to his home state of Minnesota and joined the Minneapolis Fire Department.

“I really like helping people. This career is really rewarding. I’ve never once woken up and thought, ‘I don’t want to go to work today.’” Kris says.

But shortly after beginning his firefighting career, he got injured on the job.

Kris and his colleagues were responding to a house fire. They are used to responding quickly, carrying heavy loads and doing what it takes to get a fire out as fast as possible.

When Kris jumped down from the rig to help put out the fire, he immediately knew something wasn’t right. As his left leg hit the ground, his right leg was still up on the running board. His left leg folded backwards and he felt terrible pain in his knee.

It turns out Kris’s injury was a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Unfortunately, this is a fairly common knee injury. Over 100,000 ACL reconstructions are performed every year in the U.S. At TRIA, our sports medicine surgeons perform an average of 429 ACL surgeries every year.

Some other firefighters recommended TRIA, so Kris came in for an appointment and had his surgery with Brad Nelson, MD.

After his surgery, Kris was determined to successfully complete his physical therapy and get back to work as a firefighter. At first, he started with physical therapy a couple days a week, working hard to strengthen his knee as it healed.

“Kris was a super hard worker from the beginning,” says Annie Doda, DPT, physical therapist at TRIA. “He progressed really well. But we also wanted to help him gain the confidence to get back to being an active member of his firefighting team, saving lives and putting out fires.”

L.E.A.P at TRIA        

Studies show that most people who go through ACL surgery expect to return to their pre-injury activities, but in reality only about 60% end up returning to their sport or activity. Those who do return often end up experiencing another injury.

Researchers at TRIA are exploring the reasons behind these statistics. They have found that about half of those who do not return to sport report fear of re-injury as the reason. Even after having an ACL reconstruction and going through physical therapy, many patients lack the confidence to return to their previous activities.

This is why TRIA developed the Lower Extremity Agility Program (L.E.A.P). L.E.A.P at TRIA is a six week training program designed to help patients regain strength and confidence and reduce their risk of re-injury.

“L.E.A.P is a helpful bridge between traditional physical therapy and getting back to the activity or sport people love,” says Eric Paur, DPT, who works as a physical therapist at TRIA and helped start the L.E.A.P. program.

When starting L.E.A.P 10 years ago, Eric and his colleagues researched the best way to help people get back to their sport and gain confidence after an injury. Over the years it has been modified due to the newest research. The core of the program consists of strengthening exercises in a group setting to help people reach that next level of fitness and confidence after physical therapy. 

And the data shows L.E.A.P is working. After completing L.E.A.P, our recent studies showed participants’ fear of re-injury decreased by 20 percent, and their confidence increased by 15 percent. With more than 80 people completing L.E.A.P over the last year, this is exciting news for participants returning to their sports, work and activities.

Kris’s L.E.A.P experience

As Kris progressed through physical therapy, the team at TRIA told him he might want to try out L.E.A.P. Since firefighting is extremely physically demanding, Kris decided to sign up for L.E.A.P to help him get back to his work and active lifestyle as quickly as possible.

He joined the six-week program a bit unsure of what to expect. “The first day meeting everyone and starting the program, I was a little uncertain,” says Kris. “But we soon started talking and getting to know each other, which made it enjoyable.”

Eric says this camaraderie is one of the keys to the program’s success.

“One of the big struggles for people after an injury is fear,” Eric says. “In a group setting, you can see the person next to you doing a jump you are nervous about, and it can give you confidence that you can do it, too.”

L.E.A.P is rigorous, full of circuit exercises to help participants gain strength and agility. Kris and his group worked on sprints, ladder drills, lunges, jumps, core exercises and more. The program gets harder each week as participants work on their surgical and non-surgical leg.

“It definitely brought my cardio up, too. It was accelerated strength training. It was a great workout along with strengthening my leg,” Kris said.

Eric said he can tell Kris is a hard worker and is passionate about his work as a firefighter. “We wanted to help him get back to firefighting as soon as possible, because his knee is not only important for himself, but for the safety of his co-workers and the people he is saving,” Eric said.

After a couple of weeks, Kris started to notice the benefits of the program. “At the start of L.E.A.P, I always put the heavier weight on my non-surgical side. It was easier to walk that way. Now I don’t even notice, because I can carry it on either side with equal strength,” Kris says.

Now, Kris is back to firefighting. He says because of the confidence gained through L.E.A.P, he knows his knee isn’t a delicate thing; it can handle the daily rigors of his job and hobbies.

“I’m back to doing the things I love to do, both in and outside of work,” he adds. He loves to go mountain biking and stand-up paddle boarding, both of which require strong legs and confidence in his ability to use them.

Earlier this summer, Kris and his girlfriend completed a difficult hike in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The hike was just under 5 miles with a 1,100 foot climb. He says L.E.A.P is the reason he could accomplish this hike. Not only that, but he accomplished it without any pain!

Kris is certain that without L.E.A.P, his recovery would have been significantly longer. “I would highly recommend this program to any first responder or athlete who gets hurt,” he says. “Without L.E.A.P, I wouldn’t have the confidence or strength in my leg that I do now. I’m just really glad that TRIA was able to help me get back to it.”

Find out more about our L.E.A.P. program today

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