Comeback Athlete of the Year


Comeback Athlete of the Year

Each Story Ends the Same. Back on the Field.

Do you know a young athlete* who overcame an injury or illness to get back to the sport they love? Do you want to reward them for all the hard work they put in to their recovery? Nominate them for Comeback Athlete of the Month.

Read the contest rules

*Eligible athletes must have received treatment at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta [in any inpatient or outpatient area] before returning to their organized sport.


Comeback Athlete of the Year - Saydee Najarro

School: Hamilton Crossing Elementary School
Grade: 4th
Sport: Fastpitch softball
Team: Double Trouble (Bartow County)
Injury/disorder: Concussion
Quote: "I wasn't happy about it, but I wanted to get better. I just went with it."

  • Saydee began playing softball at age 5, following in the footsteps of her older sister.
  • On top of softball, Saydee also plays basketball, sings in the school chorus and is in the math club.
  • Saydee's father, Jorge, is a coach on her team. He was the first person to reach her when she was injured.

Saydee Najarro has never liked sitting on the sidelines. That attitude ultimately drew her to what is now her favorite sport: softball.

"I think she got sick of just sitting and watching her older sister's practices and tournaments all day," Saydee's mother, Donna, said. "She finally said she could be doing it, too."

In softball, 9-year-old Saydee found a sport for which she had a natural talent and that would satisfy her restless spirit.

"It is really fun to play because you get to stay really active instead of just sitting home on the couch," she said.

The irony of Saydee's story is that it was an exciting softball play that kept her from the game for weeks.

The Hit

While playing for her Double Trouble softball team in September 2013, Saydee hit a line drive into the outfield.

As she tried to stretch a double into a triple, the other team's shortstop retrieved the ball and attempted to tag Saydee out. The tag was high and hard, hitting Saydee in the face and knocking her to the ground.

"It was the nastiest hit you have ever seen," Donna said. "She flipped backwards. Her helmet came off. She had some chipped teeth."

Saydee was dazed immediately after the hit, and for once, she didn't want to get back on the field.

"Once I got in the dugout, my headache started," she said.

The Specialist

After the hit, Saydee had difficulty walking and sensitivity to light. When her parents took her to see the family pediatrician, she struggled to answer questions she would normally answer right away, leading to a diagnosis of a concussion.

Saydee was ordered to stay out of softball and school for a week. After that week, the family went back to the pediatrician and found that her symptoms had regressed.

That was when Saydee's parents were referred to the Children's Concussion Program.

"Once we got to the specialist, she explained exactly why she couldn't do certain things," Donna said. "She said it would set her back 24 or 48 hours. I think that is when everything was explained the best."

The Recovery

While she recovered, Saydee was not allowed to do much of what girls her age love to do. She couldn't play outside with her sister, watch TV, play video games, go to school or play softball.

"I wasn't happy about it, but I wanted to get better," Saydee said. "I just went with it."

Not being able to play softball was the hardest part, for both Saydee and her parents.

"Her team won their first championship when she was out," Donna said. "It was heartbreaking to tell her. She was so upset that she wasn't there."

The Slide

Two weeks after seeing a specialist at Children's, Saydee was back on the field. She had to progress slowly, however, starting with just hitting and then moving on to fielding before playing in any games.

In her first game back, Saydee was once again caught in a close play at third base in which she had to slide.

"I couldn't believe it. Not again," Donna said. "But she was fine with it. She was excited to get back."

1 related videos

December Comeback Athlete Saydee NajarroView

In softball, 9-year-old Saydee found a sport for which she had a natural talent and that would satisfy her restless spirit, but it was an exciting softball play that gave her a concussion and kept her from the game for weeks.


April Comeback Athlete Sam Dindoffer

School: Christian Heritage School
Grade: 9th
Sport: Basketball
Position: Point guard
Team: Travel team
Injury/disorder: Epilepsy
Quote: “I wanted to keep going because I knew I wouldn’t get any better if I sat out for a year. That wasn’t going to help me at all.”

  • Sam’s interest in basketball began at age 4 after going to several local high school games. He used to recreate the games he saw on his Fischer-Price basketball goal.
  • His favorite basketball team is the Michigan Wolverines. Both of his parents graduated from the University of Michigan.
  • Sam’s favorite basketball player is Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul.

After sinking his first shot, Sam Dindoffer was getting ready to perform the same routine he always did before a free throw.

Two bounces, a spin and then shoot.

Sam was in the eighth grade at the time, playing in his basketball league’s championship game. Every point was important. Before he could complete his pre-free throw routine, however, Sam had a bad feeling. It was a feeling with which he was very familiar.

Something wasn’t right, but he still needed to make the shot.

Just the Beginning

In the fifth grade, Sam was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the first sign of which came in the form of seizures. He had surgery to remove the tumor, which revealed that it was not cancerous.

“We thought that was going to be the end of it,” said DeLynn Dindoffer, Sam’s mother.

Unfortunately, three months later, the seizures started again. At this point, Sam was diagnosed with epilepsy, a central nervous system disorder. Sam was put on medication to combat the seizures, which was effective but made him lethargic.

“School was hard and basketball was hard,” he said. “Everything I did was really slow. I didn’t get to play that much, and that was really difficult.”

Sam stayed on the medication all the way through seventh grade. Despite always feeling tired, he did his best to play basketball as much as possible.

“I wanted to keep going because I knew I wouldn’t get any better if I sat out for a year,” he said. “That wasn’t going to help me at all.”

Making the Shot

That bad feeling Sam had at the free throw line was another seizure. He knew it was coming and that he had to get the shot off before it got worse.

After abbreviating his routine, he threw a shot up off the backboard and into the net.

“My husband and I looked at each other because it looked really odd,” DeLynn said. “He still made it, but he banked it in. He usually doesn’t do that.”

After he sunk the shot, Sam walked directly to his team’s bench. He said he doesn’t remember anything after the first shot.

“They said I banked it in,” he said, “so at least I made it.”

Seven Months Since

Two years after the initial surgery to remove the tumor, Sam came to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for a second surgery with Joshua Chern, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon.

“I really liked Dr. Chern,” Sam said. “I felt like I clicked with him. He treated me like I was older. He wanted my opinion. I really liked that.”

Dr. Chern performed a temporal lobe resection, a form of brain surgery that removes the part of the brain that produces seizures. Four weeks later, however, Sam experienced more seizures.

During the summer of 2013, Dr. Chern performed a two-part surgery to help alleviate Sam’s seizures. In the first surgery, a grid was implanted to monitor Sam’s brain activity. The part of the brain causing the seizures was removed in the second surgery.

Sam has been seizure-free for the seven months since the last surgery in August. He is still on seizure medications, but that medication will gradually be reduced during the next two years.

Now 15 years old, Sam was home schooled during the 2013-2014 school year to help recover from the two surgeries, but he has not lost sight of his basketball goals. He plans to play through high school at Christian Heritage School and maybe in college.

“Sam has made this work partly because of his own determination, hard work and because he loves basketball,” his mother said. “He just kept on.”

1 related videos

April Comeback Athlete Sam DindofferView

Sam struggled with a brain tumor diagnosis and epilepsy seizures. For years, it made school and basketball difficult, but it didn’t keep him off the court. Then, brain surgeries at Children’s helped him become seizure free. Now, he has a shot at playing basketball for years to come.


March Comeback Athlete Sarah Hughes

School: Skipstone Academy
Grade: 8th
Sport: Soccer
Team: TSC Elite 00
Injury/disorder: Concussion and torn ligament in ankle
Quote: “Think about having a really, really bad headache every day for a long period of time," Sarah said of having a concussion.

  • Sarah has played most positions on the soccer field, but she usually focuses on defense.
  • Despite her string of injuries, Sarah still has the goal of being a professional soccer player.

As someone who has her sights set on playing professional soccer one day, Sarah Hughes knows the importance of being aggressive on the field.

"Obviously, it is really hard to do, but I think I have some potential," she said. "You have to work hard for what you want."

Her aggressiveness often leads to wins. During a long stretch in 2013, however, it also led to a string of injuries that repeatedly put Sarah's determination to the test.

"She just always has been competitive," said Sarah's mom, Jennifer. "She has to win the ball, which I think sometimes gets her in trouble."

One After Another

During a soccer tournament in February 2013, Sarah, who plays defense, was going for the ball before falling and hitting her head on the turf. Not usually prone to clumsiness, Sarah said she had a little help making it to the ground from an opponent.

"She definitely pushed me. I remember that," she said. "I fell back and hit my head pretty hard."

Sarah didn't start feeling any symptoms until she attempted to play the next game in the tournament. At that point, it was clear something was wrong.

"We went back for the second game and I could just tell there was something a little off," Jennifer said. "She just quit and dropped to her knees and held her head. It was very, very scary."

Sarah's pediatrician diagnosed her with a concussion and told her to take a break from both soccer and mental strain, like school work and excessive time in front of screens. After about a month, once her symptoms had started to fade, Sarah returned to the soccer field.

Not long after, she received a second concussion.

"Oh no, not again," Jennifer said. "It was almost the same exact same scenario. I took her straight to Children's."

Staying Disciplined

The symptoms of the second concussion presented themselves quickly and in severe fashion.

"Think about having a really, really bad headache every day for a long period of time," Sarah said. "It is kind of like when you first wake up and you turn the lights on. That is how I felt every day."

Jennifer took her daughter to see David Popoli, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Children's. His goal was to get Sarah the physical and mental rest she needed so the symptoms would subside and she could return to soccer.

"She came in with headache, nausea, dizziness, feeling dazed and having a hard time doing well in school," said Dr. Popoli. "The second concussion tends to be very severe and tends to last longer."

On top of staying off the soccer field, Sarah had to continue to avoid doing anything that may strain her eyes or require mental exertion. This included watching TV, talking on the phone, working on the computer or texting friends.

As difficult as it was for her, Sarah stayed disciplined. Sometimes, it seemed symptoms were going away only to return, pushing her comeback even further.

Ultimately, Sarah missed about five months of prime soccer playing time because of the concussions. But that would not be the end of her obstacles.

'Eye on the Goal'

While competing in a camp a week after returning to soccer, Sarah was once again knocked to the turf.

"A girl near me tackled the ball at the same time," she said. "She missed the ball and kicked my ankle. It was instant pain."

Sarah again had to put her soccer career on hold and recover, this time from a torn ligament in her ankle. She went to physical therapy at Children's twice a week to help her recover and build strength back in her ankle.

Throughout it all, Sarah kept taking the steps she needed to get back to her sport. This came as no surprise to her mom.

"She had her eye on the goal of what she wanted," Jennifer said, "and I knew she would make it happen."

1 related videos

March Comeback Athlete Sarah HughesView

Soccer star Sarah Hughes has her sights set on a future career as a professional athlete. Even though back-to back concussions and a torn ligament in her ankle kept Sarah on the sidelines, hard work and determination got her back on the field.


February Comeback Athlete Eli Clarkson

School: Our Lady of the Assumption
Grade: 3rd
Sport: Swimming, Football and Baseball
Team: Murphy Candler Park/Dynamo Swim
Injury/disorder: Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease
Quote: “He had the most phenomenal attitude through the whole thing,” his father Eric said. “I never thought a 7-year-old boy could be my hero.”

  • During his recovery, Eli would try to race kids on their bikes with his wheelchair.
  • When Eli was first returning to swimming, it was one of the few times he wasn't winning all his races. His father said it was a good lesson for him to learn.
  • In his first baseball game after the surgery, Eli hit two home runs.
  • In his first football season, Eli played quarterback and safety and led his team to the league championship.
  • In his last swim season, he made the state cut in six events.

Eli Clarkson is the kind of 9-year-old who feels the need to hurdle over a sofa to go from the living room to the kitchen. With that kind of athleticism, his parents weren't surprised when he excelled at multiple sports.

They were surprised, however, with a limp and hip pain in his right leg at age 7 turned out to be more than just a minor injury.

“He was developing a really bad limp, and he was getting ready to play his first season of football in the fall,” Eli's father, Eric, said. “He said his groin was hurting, and I just thought he pulled his groin.”

A Serious Diagnosis

An X-ray at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Scottish Rite hospital revealed that Eli had Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, a condition that affects the top of the thigh bone. In a child with Perthes, the top of the thigh bone, or femoral head, loses blood supply and collapses.

Eric and his mother, Lynn, were initially told that recovery in some cases of Perthes could take between three and five years and result in some long-term disabilities. The family’s pediatrician recommended they take Eli, 7 at the time, to see Tim Schrader, M.D., the Medical Director of the Children’s Hip Program.

“Dr. Schrader is a rockstar,” Eric said. “He told us he was doing a different procedure (for Perthes patients).”

Treating the Condition

One treatment for Perthes is core decompression, a minimally invasive procedure in which a hole is drilled into the femoral head to promote blood flow.

Dr. Schrader uses core decompression but includes an additional procedure called bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC). During this procedure, a sample of bone marrow is taken out the hip bone and placed into the femoral head. This extra step can help the recovery process by increasing blood flow and helping the bone grow stronger.

Eli had the procedure Aug. 25, 2011. He had to stay in a cast and wheelchair for about six weeks. He wore a brace for another four months.

“We had a reserved optimism,” Eric said. “We didn’t really have anything to gauge it against. We listened to and believed in Dr. Schrader. We had hope.”

Road to Recovery

Eli attended physical therapy with Andrea Carmin, P.T., twice a week for six months at Children’s at Meridian Mark. He quickly developed a bond with Andrea and worked hard to build strength and flexibility in his hip.

The Clarkson family had regular follow-up appointments with Dr. Schrader, during which they would see before and after X-rays of their son’s hip. For the most part, they could never tell a difference.

But when they had their most recent appointment, six months since their previous one, they saw a big difference.

“There was this beautiful, white ball that is his femoral head,” Eric said. “My wife and I just looked at each other and said, ‘There it is. That is what has been missing.’”

After he was cleared by Andrea and Dr. Schrader, Eli slowly returned to his favorite sports—swimming, baseball and football. Andrea told his parents that swimming would be a great sport for him to participate in during his recovery.

Even though the usually active Eli had to stay in a body cast and wheelchair for almost six weeks, he stayed upbeat and looked forward to getting back to sports.

“He had the most phenomenal attitude through the whole thing,” Eric said. “I never thought a 7-year-old boy could be my hero.”

1 related videos

February Comeback Athlete Eli ClarksonView

Nine-year-old Eli Clarkson was unstoppable, until hip pain and a limp at age 7 led to a serious diagnosis. After a procedure at Children's and months of recovery, Eli was able to get back to the sports he loves—all three of them. 


January Comeback Athlete Olivia Mitrovich

School: Northview High School
Grade: Freshman
Sport: Soccer
Team: United Futbol Association (Forsyth)
Injury/disorder: Fractured eye socket
Quote: "I just told classmates that I got my eye kicked in. That was the easiest way to explain it. No big deal. My friends will go on to tell the story for me."

  • Olivia is a big University of Georgia fan and hopes to play soccer for the Lady Bulldogs in the future.
  • After recovering from her injury, Olivia earned MVP Senior Goalkeeper honors at a UGA soccer camp. She also helped her team to several tournament wins.
  • In her spare time, Olivia coaches a special needs soccer team.

As boys ran toward her with the ball, goalkeeper Olivia Mitrovich would dig in her cleats, bring her hands up and growl at them.

She was 3 years old at the time, and would often leave the boys in tears.

That ferocious attitude has helped Olivia continue her soccer career into high school despite a long history of bumps, bruises and injuries.

"I'm so tough, I can get through anything, even a few broken fingers," the 15-year-old said. "It just makes me stronger and makes for good stories."

Like a Freight Train

Her biggest injury—and arguably best story—occurred in August 2012. As usual, Olivia was aggressively guarding the goal near the end of her first practice with a new team.

"I went in for a slide tackle and a girl collided with me," she said. "I guess she couldn't stop herself and my defender fell into her."

One of her teammate's cleats struck Olivia in her left eye. Both of her parents were on the sideline watching the practice when the injury occurred.

"We saw it happening," Olivia's mother, Kristen, said. "It was like a freight train. We just couldn't stop it."

Olivia tried to tough it out and walk off the field. When she touched her eye and saw blood, she sat back down. Her father, Jim, helped her off the field. Both he and Kristen were anticipating another short night in the emergency room.

"I thought it was a cut on her eyebrow, nothing more than a laceration," Jim said. "From there, we took her straight to Children's. We made it in record time."

Precautionary Scan

Olivia's parents brought her to the Emergency Department at Scottish Rite hospital, where her eye was stitched up. Before the family left, the emergency physicians wanted to do a precautionary computed tomography (CT) scan.

"We thought we were going to get our papers, sign everything and be ready to go," Jim said. "Then the doctor said we weren't going anywhere. They wanted to do surgery."

The CT scan showed that, when Olivia's eye was struck, it also fractured the bottom of her eye socket. If left untreated, the injury could result in severe eye damage and even loss of vision.

Olivia went into surgery the next morning with Fernando Burstein, M.D., F.A.C.S., F.A.A.P., Medical Director, The Center for Craniofacial Disorders.

"We had to put our faith in these guys, and they did a phenomenal job," Kristen said.

An Impatient Patient

After the successful surgery to fix her eye socket, Olivia had to stay in the hospital for another four days. She was ready to get back on the soccer field much sooner than that.

"She was actually arguing with the doctor sewing her eyelid back on that she was going back in two days because she had a tournament," Kristen said.

Even when she returned home, Olivia wasn't cleared to play. She had to stay off the field for another four weeks while her eye healed. Those four weeks were the worst part of the injury.

"I couldn't do anything," Olivia said. "I was basically laid up on the couch. I'm usually always moving around. I couldn't watch TV or text. I basically just slept."

When she returned to the field, she fell right back into her aggressive, growling demeanor on the field. Most recently, she landed a spot on the Northview High varsity soccer team as a freshman.

"I couldn't stop smiling," she said. "I was so happy."

1 related videos

January Comeback Athlete Olivia MitrovichView

When a soccer injury left Olivia Mitrovich with a fractured eye socket, she was sidelined for weeks. See how this athlete's ferocious attitude helped get her back on the field.


November Comeback Athlete Sam Carillo

School: Whitewater Middle School
Football, baseball and tennis
USTA Junior Tennis Team
Chronic immune thrombocytopenia (ITP)
"You can't always think about the bad things in life. You can always bring in some new things. I just wanted to do something different."

  • Because he couldn't participate in P.E. class, Sam started playing violin in the orchestra. He received a superior grade at the Georgia Educators Performance Evaluations in 2013.
  • When he played football, his position was defensive end and middle linebacker. When he played baseball, he played left field.
  • After being diagnosed with ITP, Sam's father arranged an introduction with Denzel McCoy, a former Georgia Tech football player who also had to stop playing because of a medical condition.

For a few years, "The Maniac" was a force on the football field.

Twelve-year-old Sam Carillo, nicknamed "The Maniac" by his football coaches for his tenacity, was a natural in a helmet and shoulder pads. That much was apparent during his first tryout.

"He went up against another kid that was probably 6 inches taller than him and completely flattened him," Sam's father, Fred, said. "I looked at my wife and said, 'We might have something here.'"

Unfortunately, a difficult diagnosis halted Sam's football career and forced him to direct his tenacious spirit elsewhere.

Gutsy Player

As a tough, defensive football player, Sam would regularly come home from practices or games with bruises on his arms and legs. But even after his third-grade season had ended, the bruises weren't going away.

"I was like, 'What's happening to me?'" Sam said.

A trip to the family's pediatrician revealed that Sam's platelet count was dangerously low. Platelets are the parts of the blood that help it clot.

"That immediately set off some alarms," Fred said. "She wanted us to get him checked out, and that started us down this path of seeing doctors to try and figure out what was wrong with Sam."

Putting a Name To It

The Carillo family struggled to find an accurate diagnosis for Sam, going through multiple painful tests including a bone marrow biopsy.

It wasn't until Sam, who was 9 at the time, met with Michael Briones, D.O., a Pediatric Hemotologist/Oncologist at Children's, that he was diagnosed with immune thrombocytopenia (ITP).

"It was such a great relief, putting a name to what he has," his mom, Suzanna, said. "You are going for almost a year and you have no idea what to tell people what he has."

ITP is a disorder that doesn't allow the blood to clot like it should because of a low number of platelets. Other than having ITP, Sam was a healthy, active boy, so Dr. Briones recommended he avoid playing contact sports due to the risk of severe head trauma.

"I felt like I was going to cry and that I didn't want to do anything," Sam said of his reaction to being told he couldn't play football. "I just wanted to sulk."

A New Sport and Outlook

But Sam didn't sulk. He started looking for different outlets for his athletic ability. After his dad bought him a tennis racket and he went to a practice, his sights were set.

The first few lessons were difficult, even for a natural athlete like Sam.

"I would miss a lot and hit it over the fence," he said. "We probably went through 50 balls on the first day because they went over the fence."

But slowly and surely, Sam started keeping the balls inside the fence and eventually started hitting them past the outstretched rackets of his opponents. For the past couple of seasons, Sam has worked his way up the ranks of his United States Tennis Association (USTA) team.

"That is any parent's joy, seeing their child happy and embracing life and to be excited about something," Suzanna said.

For Sam, transitioning to tennis wasn't just a matter of finding a new athletic outlet; it was an important life lesson at an early age.

"You can't always think about the bad things in life," he said. "You can always bring in some new things."

1 related videos

November Comeback Athlete Sam CarilloView

A difficult diagnosis halted Sam's football career and forced him to direct his tenacious spirit elsewhere. After his dad bought him a tennis racket and he went to a practice, his sights were set. See how Sam has worked his way up the ranks of his United States Tennis Association team and learned important life lessons along the way.


October Comeback Athlete Tatum "Tots" Hendrickson

School: Riverside Elementary
Grade: 3rd
Sport: Softball
Team: North Gwinnett Bulldogs
Position: Right field
Injury/disorder: Chiari malformation
Quote: "I always knew she was a fighter," said Courtney Hendrickson, Tatum's mom. "I knew she was going to go out there and do her best. I knew that she would come out of it stronger and I think she has."

  • Tatum's favorite baseball team is the Atlanta Braves. Her favorite player is first baseman Freddie Freeman. She wears No. 5 because that is Freeman's number.
  • She has a dog named Copper.
  • Tatum has played on the softball All-Star team two years in a row.
  • Her parents came up with the nickname "Tots" after shortening her previous nickname, "Tater Tot."

Inside her tiny frame, Tatum "Tots" Hendrickson already had the natural ability and instincts that make her a great softball player.

If the 8-year-old lacked anything, it was the passion to get out on the field as much as possible. When she had to miss a season to recover from surgery, that passion was sparked. Now, it is tough to get Tatum off the field.

"I'm back to softball," she said.

Thrown a Curve

While swimming at her aunt's pool in July 2012, Tatum's aunt noticed that her back looked curved and told her parents, Michael and Courtney.

Their pediatrician confirmed that Tatum had scoliosis with a 32-degree curve in her spine. An MRI revealed that she also had a Chiari malformation.

"We were like, 'She has a what?' We had never heard of this," Courtney said.

A Chiari malformation is a congenital defect of the cerebellum, where the brain and spinal cord connect. In Tatum's case, the defect was not letting her spinal fluid drain properly. This caused her spine to curve and twist.

Sweat and Tears

The Hendricksons were referred to Joshua Chern, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon at Children's who Tatum called "Dr. Germ."

Dr. Chern spoke with the family about the procedure he wanted to do to correct both the malformation and the scoliosis. Tatum listened quietly, then raised her hand to ask a question.

"She asked Dr. Chern if she could play softball. He said she couldn't," Courtney said. "At first she was fine. Then you look over at her and the tears started. Then he said, 'After we do this, you can play.'"

Fit for a Kid

Tatum had the procedure at Egleston hospital Aug. 22, 2013. It corrected the curve of her spine from 32 degrees to 15 degrees. Future surgeries will likely be needed to fully correct the Chiari malformation.

Throughout the whole process, Michael and Courtney were impressed by how Children's catered to their family's needs.

"The hospital is really set up and geared toward the experience of the child, the parents and the stress," Michael said. "That was phenomenal."

Tatum and her parents were most comforted by Child Life Specialist Ashley McClain, C.C.L.S., who went into the operating room with Tatum where her parents couldn't come.

"They are a sweet family," Ashley said. "She was just terrified though. They kind of all were, and totally understandable. But she did great."

Back in the Game

Tatum was back home in just a couple of days and was up and moving around a day later. After missing the fall season, she was able to return for the spring season with her team, the North Gwinnett Bulldogs. During that season, she earned her a spot on the summer all-star team for the second year in a row.

"After being unable to play in the fall and being held back a little bit, it kind of stoked the passion in her a little bit," her father said. "She would talk more about how much she liked it, about things she wanted to do."

Tatum is excited to be on the field with her friends, playing the sport she loves.

"I like that I can hit the ball and get people out," she said. "I just like to play."

1 related videos

October Comeback Athlete Tatum View

Tatum was diagnosed with scoliosis and a Chiari malformation, which is a congenital defect of the cerebellum, where the brain and spinal cord connect. The defect was not letting her spinal fluid drain properly. This caused her spine to curve and twist. See how she received treatment at Children’s and returned to the sport she loves.


September Comeback Athlete Noelle Miranda

School: Parkview High School
Grade: Senior
Sport: Cheerleading
Position: Flyer
Team: Stingray All-Stars
Injury/disorder: Two fractures in her left arm
Quote: "When I started tumbling again, I had a slight mental block. It is like your body just won't do it. I had to work my way in, which is weird for me. I've never had that problem."

  • Noelle started cheerleading in the fifth grade.
  • Because of her injury, Noelle is interested in working in sports medicine and orthopaedics because she wants to help other athletes like her.
  • Some of the colleges Noelle is looking at include Baylor University, UNC-Greensboro, Quinnipiac University and Azusa Pacific University.

Noelle Miranda, a senior at Parkview High School, is used to falling down. The gymnast-turned-cheerleader admits she has a history of occasionally tripping over her own feet.

But the manner in which she fell during a cheerleading practice in August 2010 stood apart from other trips and falls.

"It was just one of those rare things," said Annette Miranda, Noelle's mother.

'Easy Transition'

Noelle started gymnastics at an early age, showing an early comfort with tumbling. In the fifth grade, Noelle made the change to cheerleading, a change that was made smoother by past experience.

"The floor routine was my favorite part of gymnastics, and cheerleading basically is floor," Noelle said. "It was just an easy transition."

By the time Noelle reached high school, she was participating on both the sideline and competitive cheerleading squads. Following her sophomore year, she decided to just focus on competitive.

"After two years, my body decided that the hard floor (of the gym) wasn't for me," she said. "(Competitive) is a lot more time, but it is a little easier on the body."

Don't Panic

While performing a routine tumbling pass during practice, however, Noelle tripped.

"Trying to save my face, I put my arms out," Noelle said. "One arm went out like it was supposed to. The other came into my body."

The awkward position of her left arm forced it to carry all of her weight, snapping both bones in the forearm. Although she knew something wasn't right after it happened, Noelle did not panic or feel much pain.

"I couldn't feel it because when my bone broke, it damaged the nerve," she said. "But I heard the sound it made, and I felt a tingling feeling, like when your foot falls asleep. Then I rolled over; I saw that it wasn't in one piece. It was kind of just hanging there."

The Right Place

Noelle's coaches rushed her to the Emergency Department at Egleston hospital. After a quick phone call from the coaches, Noelle's mother was not far behind.

"It was a parent's nightmare," Annette said. "The one night I was not there, I get a phone call from the coach saying they were on their way to the hospital."

Annette was glad her daughter's coaches took her to Egleston, despite the hospital's distance from practice. Noelle received an X-ray when she arrived at the Emergency Department to confirm the severity of the fracture.

"They are experts in treating children," Annette said of Children's. "They have small needles, small arm cuffs. It is geared toward children. The coaches thought it was the best place to take her, and I agreed."

Recovery and Return

Noelle had surgery to repair the two compound fractures a few days later. She had two titanium plates placed on the bones to provide additional stability.

Because of the fractures also caused nerve trauma, she had to go to physical therapy for several months to build back complete function in her left arm. But that didn't stop her from returning to cheerleading practice as soon as possible, even if her role was limited.

"I don't like sitting out. It is not fun," she said. "Most of the time I would be sitting at practice doing my homework."

Three years since the injury, Noelle is back performing the same stunts she was before. On top of practicing with her All-Star competition team, the Stingrays, Noelle is researching colleges that will allow her to continue her cheerleading career.

"I don't know what I would do without some kind of sport," she said.

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Hear straight from Noelle and her mother about their experience at a Children's Emergency Department after a serious arm fracture.