Right in the middle of the defensive line, Elijah Rodriguez, was always ready for action as a defensive tackle on his youth football team – the Lynwood Jr. Knights. When he was 12-years-old, he found himself stuck at the bottom of a pile-up during a game, causing an injury to his leg. Unaware of how serious the injury would become, he brushed it off and played through the pain the rest of the season.
Elijah first felt pain in his knee and had a slight limp when he walked. His father, Petronio, took him to their family doctor to see what was wrong. After the x-ray of his knee came out clean, the family doctor said to rest for a while and to take ibuprofen to help with the pain.
The pain intensified after Elijah fell while walking home from school a few months after his injury. He now had pain in the whole upper part of his leg and his limp became worse – he could barely walk, let alone continue playing football.
“Elijah is a strong kid, but it was really frustrating to not know what was wrong,” said Petronio Rodriguez. “He would look at me with pain and fear in his eyes and tell me that he wanted the pain to end. No parent wants to see their kid in so much pain.”
A whole year after the initial football injury, Elijah and Petronio made a visit to Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach for an opinion from a pediatric orthopedic specialist. An x-ray of Elijah’s full leg and hip revealed that his thigh bone (femur) was not connected to his hip bone as it should be. He was suffering from a condition called a Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis (SCFE).
With SCFE, the top of the femur slips out from the hip and results in a weakened hip joint. Sometimes SCFE can happen gradually as a child grows, but in some cases like Elijah’s, it can happen as a result of an injury. The pain is usually felt first in the knee because SCFE can irritate the nerves that run down the whole leg.
“I couldn’t believe he was walking on his injury for so long,” said Torin Cunningham, M.D., medical director, Pediatric Orthopedic Center, Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. “By the time Elijah came to Miller Children’s, he had complete inability to bear weight on his leg and needed surgery as soon as possible to correct his hip joint.”
Surgery to correct SCFE normally involves a screw to keep the joint from shifting any further. However Elijah’s SCFE was so severe, the femur needed to be completely reattached to the hip to restore normal hip function. Dr. Cunningham was able to perform Elijah’s 5-hour surgery almost immediately after the diagnosis.
“I was so thankful that Dr. Cunningham was able to do the surgery the same week after the diagnosis,” said Petronio. “Everyone at Miller Children’s was so compassionate and professional. I knew my son would make a 100 percent recovery.”
Elijah had no complications resulting from the surgery. Within three months, he was walking without a limp and his quality of life was back to normal. Elijah, now 14-years-old, hasn’t played football since his injury, but he has always had a passion for music. He loves electronic dance music, classic rock and taught himself how to play the keyboard. His dream is to become an electronic dance music DJ.