Braden River student aims to save soccer players' knees

Knee surgery inspired Mackenzie Grubb's award-winning science project

srocco@bradenton.comFebruary 13, 2014 

EAST MANATEE -- A few times each game, Mackenzie Grubb would experience the snapping, searing pain of her knee cap popping out of place when she kicked the soccer ball. The spasm was dizzying, but she dealt with it -- always getting back on the field when her knee ground back to where it was supposed to be, when the pain subsided.

Grubb fought through each jarring incident, until her knee dislocated completely. That meant surgery, 12 months of recovery and a couple years off soccer.

Dr. Daniel Lamar of Coastal Orthopedics in Bradenton performed medial patella femoral ligament reconstruction to fix the knee. He anchored the patella (kneecap) by rebuilding the ligament inside the patella that gets torn down during dislocation.

Today, Grubb, a Braden

River High School junior, is playing soccer for the junior varsity team.

Grubb's struggles inspired her science fair project to help other soccer players avoid knee dislocation, which won first place in medicine at Braden River High's science fair, a slot in the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida in April and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles in May. The Intel ISEF is one of the largest and most prestigious science fairs in the world.

"When I heard I had to do science fair, I was really excited to do something pertaining to the knee, and I wanted something that would help me finish a full soccer season," she said.

Grubb tinkered for weeks in the family room of her Heritage Harbour home building a mechanical knee that could model the strain on the patella tendon from kicks taken at different soccer positions: defense, midfield and forward.

Wearing a knee brace to measure the angle of her kick, Grubb found a penalty kick exerted the greatest strain at 162.75 nanostrains. A corner kick came in second at 0.75, followed by a pass with 0.5. The mechanical knee shows the strain on the patella tendon by stretching a spring. The more stretch, the more strain.

"From my calculations, I figured out it would be best for me to play defense, because you're doing more passing rather than penalty kicks," she said. "This would help soccer players and other athletes change their way of playing like I did, and reduce the risk of knee problems."

Grubb made a presentation board detailing her research and conclusion. She pasted some images of her knee before surgery.

"I want athletes to realize that they can reduce their amount of injuries, and I think by using this, you can be more cautious of what angle your knee is at and how much strain you're putting on it," she said.

Don Engelberger, Grubb's soccer coach at Braden River, said she is always in high spirits: "She was a little hesitant to play at first, but I think the project helped her tremendously ... she's very positive."

After high school, Grubb wants to study pre-med at the University of Florida, Florida State or University of South Florida and then go on to become at doctor at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Lakewood Ranch, following in the footsteps of her father, a family physician at Manatee Memorial Hospital. For now, Grubb volunteers in the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital.

"She's the intense one," said her mom, Denice Grubb. "She won't even go out. She says 'I have to stay home and study.' "

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow @sabrinarocco on Twitter.

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