‘Defying all odds’: How these twin athletes overcame their torn ACL and dislocated knee injuries, together
When it comes to twins, Griffin and Audrey Behrens couldn’t be much closer. Growing up, they were inseparable. They had the same thoughts, finished each other’s sentences and practically had their own language, remembers their mother, Michelle.
Both were very athletic and played many of the same sports as children. But when they entered high school at Westside High School, they began to focus – Griffin on football and wrestling and Audrey on volleyball. Both have big dreams of playing in college.
In Griffin’s freshman year, those dreams were nearly shattered. In February 2020, he was wrestling in a district tournament when his opponent pounced on his knee causing a dislocated knee. He went to Nebraska Medical Center, where an MRI revealed tears to the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and lateral-collateral ligaments, as well as a hamstring tendon and a complete rupture of a major nerve.
Given the seriousness of the situation, he was seen immediately by two members of the orthopedic surgery team.
“Knee dislocations are devastating injuries and can be life changing,” says Dr. Tao, who specializes in sports medicine. “We had a long conversation with Griff and his parents about the injury and future prospects.”
“I knew it was bad, but I was so happy that I didn’t have to have my leg amputated,” Griffin said. “That’s when I vowed to do whatever it took to get back on the pitch.”
Dr. Tao shared a similar vision and the partnership that ensued was special. “We hate to see injuries like this, but we also believe this is an area where our team can shine,” he said. “This level of complexity requires a multidisciplinary approach where all team members have a unified vision and work together.”
In Griffin’s case, one of the essential elements of his treatment was the expertise provided by Dr. Morgan, a hand surgeon specializing in peripheral nerve injuries. The initial surgery involved reconstruction of the common peroneal nerve – the large nerve behind the knee that helps move the foot. The serious condition of the injury required Dr. Morgan to take a nerve graft from Griffin’s ankle to reconstruct the damaged segment.
“Griff’s case was particularly difficult due to the size of the nerve and the fact that it tore, but the operation went very well,” notes Dr. Morgan. At the same time, Dr. Tao reconstructed the structures on the outside of Griffin’s knee to restore stability.
Dr. Tao then performed a second surgery to reconstruct the ACL. Griffin then began to focus on rehabilitation with an outside therapist, Claire Rathjen. Another important member of the team was Caitlin Johnson, BSN, RN, who helped coordinate all of Griffin’s care and developed a close bond along the way. “One of the best parts of sports medicine is working with kids like Audrey and Griff,” Johnson says. “I love getting to know them, being someone they can count on and watching them go through their journey back on the pitch.”
Through it all, Griffin’s twin sister, Audrey, was constantly by his side as his strongest supporter. But in their typical “twin fashion,” the tables turned in the spring of 2021 when Audrey’s volleyball team was competing for a national championship bid. While sitting at the net, Audrey landed awkwardly on her right leg and felt a pop. Although her injury was not as severe as Griffin’s, Audrey had also torn her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus.
“Now I know I said they had a lot in common, but that was going a bit too far,” laments their father, Bryan.
Audrey also chose Dr. Tao for her care and went down a similar path with ACL reconstruction. This was followed by a year of rehabilitation with Rathjen during which the twins worked side by side in each session.
Audrey and Griffin agree that Dr. Tao has also been an important source of support and encouragement during their recovery. “He definitely pushed us,” Griffin says. “He said it was up to me to decide what I could accomplish based on my physical therapy efforts.”
The twins took those words to heart and never gave up — neither on their recovery nor on their college athletic dreams. Impressed by their determination, says Dr. Tao, “one of the most interesting things about these two is their mindset. ability to stay positive all the time.”
Griffin returned to the gridiron in the fall of 2021 as part of Westside’s state championship runner-up team. Audrey has returned to the volleyball club and is looking forward to the upcoming high school season.
“They defy all odds,” says Michelle. “We never imagined they would compete again at the level they are at now. They both showed the courage, determination and mental toughness to overcome their injuries and remained passionate about their sport. S “They could come back as strong after what they’ve been through, there’s nothing they can’t do and we owe it, in part, to Nebraska Medicine.”
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