Surgery gets high school athlete back in the game

Patient Stories |

05/15/2024

Evan McIntire ortho patient

A Greenwood basketball player suffered what many thought would be a season-ending injury, but his orthopedic surgeon helped get him back on the court.

By Maureen Gilmer, Riley Children’s Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

It was during a raucous game in the weeks before Christmas when suddenly a hush grew over the crowd and a gymnasium full of basketball fans stopped to pray.

They had just watched as a talented junior on Greenwood Christian Academy’s team went up to block a shot and came crashing down, landing awkwardly on his left ankle.

“It was pretty traumatic,” said Carrie McIntire of her son Evan’s injury. “He dislocated it and fractured his fibula in three places.”

Billed as a “Silent Night” game between two rival private schools in anticipation of the holidays and winter break, it got quiet pretty quickly, McIntire recalled.

“Everyone sat silently and prayed.”

Evan, meanwhile, was feeling pain like never before. But he felt something else, he said, as he lay on the court, surrounded by concerned coaches and teammates -- a sort of calm emanating from those prayers.

Evan McIntire

The teen had just scored 15 points in the second half of the Dec. 7 game against Covenant Christian High School. Only a minute was left on the clock when he went down. It was a season-ending injury, his parents thought.

“Evan is probably the toughest kid you’ll ever meet, but he was in excruciating pain,” his mom said.

EMTs arrived, started an IV on the basketball court and told Mark and Carrie McIntire that the ambulance could take their son to one of three hospitals. The anxious parents chose Riley Hospital for Children.

When Riley orthopedic surgeon Dr. Erika Daley saw Evan’s twisted ankle, she also saw the fear in his parents’ eyes.

“Evan had a very serious ankle injury, one of the worst I’ve seen in my career,” Dr. Daley said. “He broke his fibula bone in several places and also injured the syndesmosis, which is the stabilizing ligaments of the ankle joint. Without surgery, he would have had an unstable ankle and been at high risk to develop arthritis in the future.”

As Evan was being wheeled into surgery the next day, Dr. Daley helped calm the athlete’s parents, siblings and grandparents, all of whom had gathered at the hospital.

Evan McIntire

“She was amazing and reassuring,” Carrie McIntire said. “I didn’t want to ask the question if he would ever play basketball again. When you have that traumatic of an event, you don’t know. I think she could tell that it was weighing on our hearts, and she said he would be able to play again.”

But it would take time, she told them. And lots of hard work.

“From the moment I met Evan on the morning of his surgery, I could tell he was determined,” Dr. Daley said. “He has dreams of playing college basketball, and he made it clear that this injury would not deter that.”

In true Evan fashion, his mom said, he was back in the gym the day after surgery. Not playing, of course, but sitting at the end of the bench, supporting his teammates. There he would remain for the next three months while he rehabbed – six weeks non-weight-bearing and six weeks of intense PT.

His doctor expected him to be ready for his AAU travel basketball schedule in April, but Evan surprised everyone – except himself – by being fully cleared by his doctors and physical therapist to return to his school team to finish the season in February with wins in sectionals and regionals. After missing 17 games, he went on to score 17 points in his first game back.

Evan McIntire

“When he came back, he got a standing ovation from the crowd,” his mom said. “It was pretty cool.”

Evan, soft-spoken and humble, is a little embarrassed by the attention, even today, as he poses for photos on his school’s court. He credits his faith and the community around him for helping him persevere.

Evan McIntire

He is driven, his doctor and coach said.

“We discussed that the time frame to return from an injury like this would be around three to six months,” Dr. Daley said, with PT starting at the six-week mark. “He came to his six-week post-op appointment with a PT appointment booked for the following morning. As soon as I gave him the all-clear, he was ready to start the hard work of getting his strength and motion back. He pushed himself hard every week in PT.”

Greenwood Christian coach Jackson Williams was watching the same progress off the court.

Evan McIntire

When the injury occurred, Williams said, he was most concerned about whether Evan would be able to get back to normal activities again.

“I wasn’t even thinking about sports at the start,” he said.

But he saw how hard Evan was working, saw how he came to games to cheer on his teammates and knew they couldn’t count him out.

“We talk about having a team-first mentality, worrying about the whole more than just ourselves,” Williams said as he watched Evan on the court after school this week. “It was special to see him work and stay committed to getting healthy so he could get back on the court to play with his teammates.”

When he returned to see Dr. Daley six weeks after starting PT three times weekly, in addition to working with his school trainer, he showed her videos on his phone of his progress, including jumping and lunging.

“I had no choice but to clear him to get back to basketball, just in time for playoffs,” she said. “For the severity of his injury and his high level of play, I never would have expected that he could have gotten back to that level three months from the injury.”

The result, she said, “speaks to his commitment and determination, his dedication to his team, his supportive family and the team of medical professionals that took care of him, particularly his physical therapist.”

Evan McIntire

Evan shows no hint of his injury, except for the spectacular scar on his left ankle, fortified with plates and screws and a TightRope system that anchors the ends of the tibia and fibula together.

He is back to playing AAU basketball and will return to the football field this fall before moving into his last high school basketball season.

He is grateful to his family, his teammates and friends and to the Riley team who cared for him, he said.

“It was a long night, but the surgery went well, and Dr. Daley has been great the whole time. She was super supportive.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org

Related Doctor

Erika L. Daley, MD

Erika L. Daley, MD

Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery