Madeline Nelson is a three-sport athlete. So when her knee popped during a section finals lacrosse game, there was more at stake than the score. Lakeville South High School needed one more win to go to state. An opponent faked left; as Madeline followed, she twisted her knee, heard a pop, and fell. The next morning, her primary care doctor suggested seeing an orthopaedic surgeon. A close family friend recommended Dr. Hans Bengtson, an orthopedic surgeon with Northfield Hospital & Clinics and an experienced athlete himself. “She said, ‘If you were my own child, I’d take you to Dr. Bengtson,’” Madeline recalls. Dr. Bengtson suspected a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), one of the most common knee injuries for athletes. He ordered an MRI at Northfield Hospital, then reviewed the results with Madeline and her dad, Tony. Madeline’s family knew the drill. Her older sister Taylor tore the ACL in both her knees in high school, and Tony tore one playing soccer in recent years. They found an empathetic expert in Dr. Bengtson, who had knee surgery for a sports injury when he was around Madeline’s age. Dr. Bengtson is board-certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and is eligible for a Certificate of Added Qualification in Sports Medicine. “We got along really well,” Madeline says. “I was very confident with him.” The MRI showed an ACL tear plus a tear in the meniscus, flexible cartilage that cushions the knee. Surgery would repair both. While operating, Dr. Bengtson discovered two more tears to Madeline’s meniscus, and repaired those, as well.
Madeline went home that night, and started physical therapy the next day. Therapist Lori Lubow at Rehabilitation Services in Lakeville monitored healing of the surgical site, helped manage Madeline’s pain, and got her moving again and rebuilding muscle. “Lori was with me the whole way,” Madeline says. “She made me feel so welcomed and confident.” “I was slowly getting better and better; it was really exciting to see,” Madeline recalls. “But I was getting frustrated with myself because I couldn’t even lift my leg. I was trying so hard to get my quad muscle to fire, and it just wouldn’t fire. I felt like I had a lot to make up for, to recover that muscle.” Madeline missed summer and fall soccer, and the first half of hockey season – frustrating for an athlete whose motto (and nickname) is “I Can Play.” “Every day the hockey team practiced on the rink I was there running stairs, running sprints, doing all my physical therapy wearing my ‘I Can Play’ T-shirt,” she says. “It was motivation.” Dr. Bengtson helped Madeline pace herself. “I wanted to get back so bad, I won’t admit to myself that I’m hurting. He told me I needed to stop and take it easy. It was so hard to accept that fact, but he told me that he did it,” Madeline says. As an athlete, “he understands how hard it is to slow down, and he can tell you how important it is to do it. He’s been honest the entire way.”
Now she’s back at lacrosse. Madeline heads to University of North Dakota next fall, the fourth generation in her family to attend UND. She has lettered in soccer, hockey, lacrosse, track and academics, and has made three appearances at state: two for hockey, one for lacrosse. She’s hoping to get to state one more time before graduating. Her advice to fellow athletes? “Don’t be worried about injuries. The more you play timid and scared, the more likely something will happen. You need to come out confident.” And she follows Lubow’s advice to keep exercising and build up all the muscles around her knee to support it. “I highly recommend Northfield Hospital,” Madeline says. “I loved it there. Everyone was so kind and took such great care of me, like I was their own kid. They genuinely care. It was a great experience.” And her teammate? “I love Dr. Bengtson and I was so thankful for him,” she says. “But at that last appointment, I told him, ‘I’m really glad to be done with you now.’”