Amid ACL recovery, Belton sees surgery from the other side of the table
After tearing her ACL in the final seconds of a December victory against Oklahoma, Duke sophomore Lynee Belton has certainly experienced the horrors of going under the knife.
But as Belton continues her rehab from ACL surgery, she has had the opportunity to see the other side of the operating table.
The Clinton, Md., native has spent her time off the hardwood this summer shadowing Dr. Alison Toth— a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at Duke Medicine. Toth is the team physician for Duke women’s athletics and performed both a shoulder and the ACL surgery on Belton earlier this year.
“I was interested in [orthopedic surgery] before [getting injured]," Belton said. “I kind of drifted off from it and wanted to try something new, but then I realized that I have so much experience with it—knock on wood—but it’ll be great to have patients who are suffering from injuries and tell them that I can relate to them in such ways and help them out through it.”
Belton certainly knows her fair share about just how cruel the injuries can be. She played sparingly through her first seven collegiate games but was coming on strong in the Blue Devils' game against the Sooners with a career-high 10 points and four rebounds.
But with just less than 20 seconds remaining in the contest, a collision with an Oklahoma defender sent the freshman to the ground with onlookers unsure of the extent of her injury.
“It was kind of a shocker,” Belton said. “I didn’t think it was my ACL, so when I found out, it was completely overwhelming, and I didn’t know what to do, because I’ve always been injured at some point in my life, but I’ve never had such a serious injury where I had to sit out for such a long period of time."
Although Belton’s season was finished after just eight games and the 6-foot-3 center faced a long road to recovery, the ninth-ranked prospect in ESPN's Class of 2014 was far from defeated. She took valuable advice from teammates Rebecca Greenwell and Amber Henson—who have had similar surgeries in the past. After applying for a medical redshirt, Belton has used motivation from her teammates and the people around her to approach rehab with an open mind.
“The rehab process is going great so far,” Belton said. “I'm just having a little bit of soreness, but everything’s going smoothly. [I’ve been] working mostly on my conditioning—still working on it now—and just trying harder to get back to where I was before getting injured.”
But while continuing to train for her return to the court, Belton has also kept her post-basketball career in mind.
After shadowing a family friend a year ago, the sophomore has found herself right at home besides Dr. Toth both in the office and operating room. Belton has been able to observe Toth interact with her post-operation patients and new clients during clinical hours twice a week. She has also had a front-row seat in the operating room to watch Toth perform a variety of surgeries.
“Hopefully, it’ll give me a sense—if I do shadow more people—I can not only know what they’re doing but be familiar with the procedures and everything—I’ve seen my ACL surgery, a hamstring ACL surgery, a wrist, an ankle, shoulders—and just keep broadening my experience with them," Belton said.
With one of the country's top medical schools nearby, opportunities abound for Duke athletes to get valuable experiences for a future in the medical field. Of late, more and more Blue Devils have began to pursue such opportunities. Two of Belton's former teammates—All-American Elizabeth Williams and Jenna Frush—participated in the College Athletic Pre-Medical Experience. Former Duke left tackle Laken Tomlinson split time between opening up holes on the gridiron for his running backs and shadowing neurosurgeon Carlos Bagley. The first-round pick of the Detroit Lions has plans to attend medical school after his days in the NFL are done.
“We really try to sell the university and being a complete student-athlete, having the opportunities we have and the way the Duke family is connected," Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I think in this day and age there are so many huge universities, it’s so nice to have a good-sized school with small classrooms and professors who are teaching you and on and on. There’s a lot we sell about Duke.”
Delaney King and Amrith Ramkumar contributed reporting.