Comeback Athletes


2015-2016 Comeback Athlete of the Year Holland Carlton

School: Pace Academy
Grade: 9th
Sport: Volleyball, soccer
Team: Knights
Injury/disorder: Brain tumor

  • Holland is a triple athlete, participating in basketball, volleyball and soccer.
  • A CT scan after a concussion revealed a growing mass in her brain.
  • The surgery to remove the tumor took nine hours and two doctors to complete. After the procedure, she spent several weeks in the Inpatient Rehabilitation Program receiving physical and occupational therapy.

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2015 November Comeback Athlete: Holland CarltonView

After a concussion landed Holland at the doctor’s office, a routine CT scan revealed the last thing she and her family expected—a brain tumor. In March 2015, Holland underwent a nine-hour surgery to remove the growth that was located very close on her brain to her movement and sensory centers. After the procedure, the young athlete had to relearn daily activities like how to tie her shoes and walk unassisted at the Children’s Inpatient Rehabilitation Program. She is now back on the field playing soccer, and this past spring she became a strong starter on the JV volleyball team after working her way up from second string in just a few short weeks.


April Comeback Athlete Drew Whitmoyer

School: Northview High School
Grade: 11th
Sport: Swimming
Team: Northview Titans, SwimAtlanta
Injury/disorder: Venous thoracic outlet syndrome

  • Drew has been swimming competitively since he was 6 years old. He’s been training year-round for the past eight years, which involves nearly three hours of practice six days a week.
  • Drew’s best stroke is butterfly. His personal record is 54.45 seconds for the 100 yard butterfly and 2:02.09 for the 200 yard butterfly.
  • Drew encountered several complications after his 10.5-hour surgery and spent nearly a month in the hospital. Although he was sidelined from swimming, Drew never missed one of his team’s meets—he was always in the stands cheering them on.
  • Drew excels outside of the pool as well. In addition to making up all of his schoolwork after a month in the hospital, he is actively involved in the Model United Nations club and is currently fundraising to go on a mission trip this summer.

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2016 April Comeback Athlete: Drew WhitmoyerView

Drew was no stranger to injury, having overcome a rotator cuff injury from years of swimming in early 2015. However, he never expected to wake up from a nap with his left arm swollen to more than twice its normal size in October of the same year. Following an emergency room visit and several procedures, Drew was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. After discovering a 7-inch blood clot in his left shoulder, he had to have his first rib removed and his subclavian vein replaced in a 10.5-hour surgery to resolve the problem. Recovery was no easy road. Unable to move his arm for a month following surgery, Drew didn’t know if he’d ever want to swim again. He’s been going to physical therapy since late November 2015 with Skippy Mattson, head of the Children’s Swimming Program. Drew is now back in the pool and looking forward to competing again.


March Comeback Athlete Emily Etherton

School: Buford High School
Grade: 10th
Sport: Gymnastics
Team: Buford High School Wolves
Injury/disorder: Three herniated discs

  • Emily flew off the high bar and landed backwards on the low bar, herniating three discs (L4, L5, S1) in her spine. After going through several treatments, including therapy and spinal epidurals, she had a three-level discectomy in February 2015. Her team of doctors included Dr. Devito, Dr. Buchanan and Dr. Marshall.
  • There are 10 levels of gymnastics before the elite level, at which only Olympic hopefuls compete. Most girls don’t progress beyond level 5, but Emily was excelling in level 9 before she suffered her injury.
  • Emily’s favorite events are beam and floor, in which she regularly competes for her high school team. Buford is the reigning state gymnastics champion.
  • Emily just started driving in January and is enjoying hanging out with her friends and being a normal teenager.

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2016 March Comeback Athlete: Emily EthertonView

Emily’s dream of competing in collegiate gymnastics was derailed after she sustained a back injury on the uneven bars in 2013. When years of treatments, including physical therapy and spinal epidurals, couldn’t relieve her pain, Emily had a three-level discectomy to repair her herniated discs. She is now back to competing with her state-champion high school team and is finally pain-free.


February Comeback Athlete Mallory Landon

School: Pope High School
Grade: 11th
Sport: Soccer
Team: Pope Greyhounds, Concord Soccer
Injury/disorder: Apophysitis, torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), torn medial meniscus

  • Mallory started playing soccer at age 8 and made her high school varsity team as a freshman.
  • Dr. Michael Busch performed ACL reconstructions and meniscus repairs on both of Mallory’s knees.
  • Her physical therapist, Caroline Fabian, said she was excited every time she saw Mallory because she knew Mallory would work hard and was a pleasure to be around.
  • After she completed physical therapy, Mallory chose to continue working with her high school trainer, Kresta Bosley, to stay strong and healthy.
  • Mallory also excels in the classroom and has already started visiting colleges.

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2016 February Comeback Athlete: Mallory LandonView

When she was in the 8th grade, Mallory thought apophysitis was the toughest thing she’d have to go through. Unfortunately, she suffered a left ACL and medial meniscus tear just months after recovering from her hip injury. Mallory persevered through nine months of rehab to return to soccer, when she suffered the same injury to her right knee just three months later. Prepared for the physical therapy and knowing what she had to do to get healthy, Mallory returned to soccer even quicker the second time around. She’s now a high school junior and is currently completing her second full season with the Pope Greyhounds.


January Comeback Athlete Matthew Leahy

School: Oak Grove Elementary School
Grade: 3rd
Sport: Baseball, basketball, soccer and swimming
Team: Druid Hills Youth Sports, Triumph Youth Soccer Association, Dynamo Swim Team
Injury/disorder: Legg-Calve-Perthes disease

  • Matthew has always been very active, participating in baseball, basketball, soccer and swimming.
  • An avid Georgia Tech fan, Matthew’s favorite football player is former Yellow Jacket wide receiver Calvin Johnson. 
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, or Perthes disease, is very rare, affecting 1 in 10,000 children a year. However, it is four times more likely to occur in boys than girls. 
  • Matthew’s treatment plan was extensive, including a core decompression surgery, six weeks in a half-body cast, 18 months on crutches, 20 months in leg braces and more than 40 physical therapy sessions over two years. 
  • Matthew was originally told he may never run again. Luckily, he found Dr. Schrader and is now back on the field and even faster than before.

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2016 January Comeback Athlete: Matthew LeahyView

Matthew’s lingering hip pain after a soccer game was eventually diagnosed as Perthes disease. Facing the unknown of this rare disease, the Leahy family was relieved to meet Dr. Schrader, a renowned expert in Perthes who practiced in their hometown. A daunting two-year treatment plan would intimidate most, but 9-year-old Matthew took everything in stride, even describing his cast, braces, wheelchair and therapy as “fun.” His eternally positive attitude brought him back to doing what he loves most: playing sports.


December Comeback Athlete Evan Butler

SchoolRoswell High School
Grade: 9th
Sport: Ice hockey
Team: Atlanta Ice Bandits Hockey Club
Injury/disorder: Spinal cord injury

  • Evan began playing roller hockey at the age of 5. Once he was old enough, he switched to playing ice hockey and hasn't stopped since. 
  • His favorite team is the Chicago Blackhawks. Just like his favorite Blackhawks player, Patrick Kane, Evan plays right wing. 
  • What was supposed to be a three-day hospital stay for scoliosis correction surgery turned into a 54-day stay involving multiple surgeries and intensive rehabilitation. 
  • It wasn't until after Evan regained the ability to walk that his parents told him at one point it was thought he might never walk again.

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2015 December Comeback Athlete: Evan ButlerView

Evan’s scoliosis correction surgery revealed a mass near his spinal cord that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Evan's family was told he might never walk again, and they began preparing for Evan to live his life in a wheelchair. With extensive rehab in the Children's Inpatient Rehabilitation Program, however, Evan was determined to reteach every muscle in his legs how to work again.

Technology-assisted therapy at the Children's Center for Advanced Technology and Robotic Rehabilitation helped Evan regain function in his legs and, more important, his independence. With persistence and support from his family and care team, he not only regained function and learned to walk again, he's been cleared to get back on the ice.


October Comeback Athlete Clay Evans

School: Cornerstone Preparatory Academy
Grade: 9th
Sport: Football
Team: Cornerstone Cougars
Injury/disorder: Compound fracture to right arm, which included severed brachial artery and median nerve.

  • Clay started playing flag football in 3rd grade.
  • As a 9th grader, Clay has a starting position on the varsity football team.
  • Clay had five surgeries on his right arm to repair the compound fracture and severed brachial artery and median nerve after his accident.
  • Clay learned to use his left hand after the accident for daily tasks, but after physical therapy at Children’s, Clay can now use both hands interchangeably.

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2015 October Comeback Athlete: Clay EvansView

Standing over 6-feet tall, Clay Evans was built to play football. After a serious accident left Clay with only partial use of his right arm, it took him two years to return to the field. With the help of his family, friends and love of football, Clay is now starting on the varsity football team as a freshman. 


September Comeback Athlete Jasmine Feraro

School: Saint Francis High School
Grade: 12th
Sport: Basketball and volleyball
Team: Saint Francis Knights
Injury/disorder: Torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)

  • Jasmine has been playing basketball since 5th grade.
  • She’s torn her ACL three times—twice on her right knee, once on her left. Research shows that girls are 4 times more likely to tear an ACL than boys.
  • She’s a leader even when she’s not playing, inspiring her basketball team to win the 2015 Class A Championship.
  • Jasmine and her physical therapist, Colleen Crosby, have such a bond that they stayed in touch even after she finished rehabilitation.

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2015 September Comeback Athlete: Jasmine FeraroView

It’s hard to come back from an injury once, let alone three times. But that’s just what Jasmine Feraro did—and basketball was her motivation. She persevered to get back on the court and her determination earned her the September Comeback Athlete title.