BEAR Necessities Blog

BEAR® Implant Comeback Story:
Holly, Freestyle Skiing

Holly Reitsema is a freestyle skier and coach at the prestigious Woodward Copper snowboard and ski training camp who tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) after falling when she hit a jump. She found the BEAR® Implant when researching options beyond traditional ACL surgery and sought out Dr. Alex Meininger, an orthopedic surgeon at Steamboat Orthopaedic and Spine Institute in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Holly and Dr. Meininger chatted with us about why the BEAR Implant was the right option for Holly, what her experience was like and how being able to get back to skiing has renewed her passion for inspiring more kids and young women to explore the terrain park and become freestyle skiers themselves.

Q: How did you tear your ACL?

Holly: I injured my ACL while hitting a jump while skiing. Midair, I felt off-axis and shoulder heavy, so I knew I was about to fall. I then did the worst thing possible and fought my fall, so my body was twisted when I landed. Initially I didn’t know I tore my ACL because I wasn’t in pain, but shortly afterwards I had a lot of stiffness and instability. I passed a stress test but later confirmed my ACL tear through an MRI.

Q. What treatments options did you explore and why did you decide to get the BEAR Implant?

Holly: My local orthopedic surgeon initially suggested I get anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction (ACLR) with a patellar tendon graft. I was very hesitant because I wasn’t experiencing pain from the ACL tear, but the doctor said I would have pain after getting the graft. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to return to skiing or coaching. Something just didn’t feel right about the patellar tendon graft procedure to me. I found the BEAR Implant through my own research and selected it because it was less invasive, and I didn’t have to worry about using another piece of my body or having my body reject a body part from a cadaver. I was convinced the surgery was magical because it would allow my completely torn ACL to heal itself, and I really saw it as a light at the end of the tunnel. After speaking with Dr. Meininger, I had confidence that the BEAR Implant would work for me.

Q: Why was Holly a good candidate for the BEAR Implant?

Dr. Meininger: Holly was raised in a family of freestyle skiers. As a competitive freestyle skiing athlete and coach, she was no stranger to ACL injuries and their effects. Her father had ACLR years previously with a patellar tendon graft, and she saw how the injury changed him. Hesitation, pain and multiple operations held him back from his prior feats, and this was not something Holly nor her father wanted for her. After reviewing her MRI through a virtual video visit and discussing what alternatives to ACLR were available, we were fortunate to find she would be a great fit for the BEAR Implant.

Q: Tell me about the rehab experience?

Holly: Overall, rehab went really well, and I didn’t feel any pain in my knee by two weeks post-op. At times, it was challenging to stay on track during rehab, and it wasn’t a linear experience of healing. Some weeks I felt strong and was progressing, and some weeks I felt weak. My physical therapist was really committed to my recovery. I can’t stress enough the importance of finding the right physical therapist. It’s crucial to find someone who you have something in common with so they understand your goals.

My mindset during rehab was all about my return to sport. I had a bit of inter-quad weakness caused by muscle atrophy from being non-weight bearing and had to work through that. I was cleared to go back to skiing green circle trails on the mountain slope first, and then back to the terrain park and other more advanced terrain at nine months post-op. I am super proud that I was able to get back to sport so quickly.

Dr. Meininger: Holly’s dedication to getting back to freestyle skiing was evident by her enthusiasm and diligence in rehab. She was steadfast in her compliance with physical therapy to achieve her range of motion goals – demonstrating 95 degrees of flexion by six weeks and 130 degrees of flexion by 12 weeks. When imbalances or weakness patterns like varus thrust or patellar maltracking were recognized, Holly was quick to fulfill the strengthening assignments and achieve success improvements at her next encounter. One year after surgery, Holly was exuberant to share that she had been skiing like her former self. Her joy and satisfaction with the results of the BEAR Implant surgery make me tremendously proud.

Q: Can you tell us about your return to sport experience?

Holly: Before I returned to skiing, I felt super nervous and scared to get hurt again. I had so much grief when I lost skiing after tearing my ACL, and I had put so much work into rehab. Even though I was very confident in my knee, there was still the potential of reinjuring myself. After hitting the slopes for the first time, I was so proud that my knee didn’t tire out. Returning to skiing again with the BEAR Implant gave me that feeling that skiing has always given me – butterflies in my stomach and being in a creative flow state where I feel like I’m flying. After I completed my run, I couldn’t believe I had reached my biggest goal of returning to skiing.

Since skiing and coaching again, I have been building my stamina and I am more self-aware of my energy levels. These days, once I properly warm up, I feel like I did before I got injured. Being able to demonstrate tricks for my students while coaching is an extreme accomplishment for me.

Q. What are some of your future goals?

Holly: In terms of coaching, I want to obtain more PSIA certifications for teaching skiing and I am really inspired to get more kids into the terrain park. I’d also like to support and encourage young women to pursue freestyle skiing, which is primarily a male-dominated sport. My personal goals for skiing include progressing my tricks and seeing how far I can take it. I plan to enter more amateur competitions in the future, like rail jams. Overall, I really just want to continue to progress in doing what I love in skiing.

Q: How has the BEAR Implant technology impacted how you treat ACL tears?

Dr. Meininger: I think the BEAR Implant has the potential to change the entire paradigm around ACL injuries. That’s why I think even athletes with acute ACL tears are good candidates. Previously, we as surgeons thought an ACL tear was incompatible with healing and the stump of native ACL tissue unsalvageable. The regenerative medicine potential of the BEAR Implant has turned that notion on its head. In the past two years of offering the BEAR Implant at my practice, we have had many successful clinical results in the community with athletes getting back to sports. My patients have returned to collegiate tennis, downhill skiing, varsity track and field, fitness instruction and everyday activities with a stable knee. I think these results will help other surgeons see the potential for the BEAR Implant to change their thinking about ACL tears altogether.

Q: What unique considerations are there for athletes like Holly when it comes to the BEAR Implant vs. ACLR?

Dr. Meininger: While the BEAR Implant is avant-garde and exciting new technology, it still warrants a comprehensive conversation with the patient about recovery and expectations. I emphasize to my patients that the BEAR Implant healing is initially a more delicate process. It is not a graft bolted in with titanium screws. Once they understand the physiology of healing and the clinical basis for rehab restrictions – like weightbearing and range of motion – they are more eager to accept the guidelines and comply with rehab. It is especially important for high-level athletes to be on the same page with surgery and the expected recovery. These are exceptionally demanding individuals who are dedicated to their sports and their recovery. But if you have buy-in from the patient, healing their ACL with the BEAR Implant has a lower risk of graft harvest morbidity, weakness, and atrophy while offering the same successful stable knee that allows for sports – then you have a win-win.

Q: How has getting the BEAR Implant changed your life?

Holly: I’ve been skiing since I was 3 years old – I ski over 200 days a year, and it’s my livelihood. The BEAR Implant really lifted the heavy impact I felt in my life after tearing my ACL. ACL tears are very common in skiers. Having a successful recovery with this innovative procedure feels like a win for the ski industry. I am really motivated to spread the awareness of the BEAR Implant to those looking for an alternative option to traditional ACL reconstruction surgery.

Learn more about the BEAR Implant and find a surgeon

The BEAR Implant is available across the U.S. Learn more about the BEAR Implant or find a surgeon in your area. If you’re a BEAR Implant patient and would like to share your story, click here.

The BEAR Implant from Miach Orthopaedics was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2020. It is indicated for skeletally mature patients at least 14 years of age with a complete rupture of the ACL confirmed by MRI. Patients must have an ACL stump attached to the tibia to facilitate the restoration.

It is important to follow the BEAR Implant physical therapy program. Your surgeon can explain the program details.

Be sure to discuss your individual symptoms, diagnosis and treatment with your surgeon. The BEAR Implant has the same potential medical/surgical complications as other orthopedic surgical procedures, including ACL reconstruction. These include the risk of re-tear, infection, knee pain, meniscus injury and limited range of motion.

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