Back on the High Dive After Surgery for Rare Joint Condition

Jaiden with medal

Reverse dives are not for the faint of heart. With reverse dives, you face forward on the board, jump up, and flip backward. A natural fear is hitting the back of your head on the board.

If that’s not daunting enough, imagine doing it at 10 meters, or 32 feet, above the water. It takes guts, composure, and calm, which 15-year-old Jaiden Lynch has in spades.

“Her coaches say she’s cool as a cucumber. It’s incredible to watch this easygoing, nice kid become a fierce competitor,” says Chelsea Lynch, Jaiden’s mom.

Jaiden’s bravery was recently rewarded with a silver medal at both the U.S. Junior Nationals and the Junior Pan American Diving Championships. Impressively, she won those medals as a 15-year-old competing in the 18-and-under category. She then qualified to represent the United States at the Junior Worlds in Ukraine.

After powering through elbow pain due to osteochondritis dissecans, Jaiden got help from Stanford experts.

“My reverse two-and-a-half on the 10-meter board is doing well in competition. It’s really pretty to watch, with consistent tucks,” Jaiden says.

For three years, Jaiden powered through discomfort in her elbow before receiving minimally invasive surgery at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. Her elbow would become stiff, making it hard to hold her arms overhead when she dove, or it would catch and really hurt.

“My hometown doctors thought it would heal on its own, but eventually the pain became unmanageable. At nationals in 2019, I would cry every day because it hurt so bad, but I forced my way through the competition,” Jaiden says.

She was diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), a rare joint condition that can occur in young athletes, often in the knee or elbow. Due to lack of blood flow, bone underneath the cartilage in the joint can die and break lose, causing pain.

“Jaiden had two free bodies of bone inside her joint that needed to be removed during minimally invasive surgery that’s performed via three or four quarter-inch incisions. I also made needle-hole penetrations to stimulate blood flow and healing,” says Kevin Shea, MD, director of the Sports Medicine Program, a part of the Children’s Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health.   

Dr. Shea is a nationally known expert in treating OCD. He decided to specialize in it about 12 years ago, when he became disappointed in the progress made in treating the condition. He and a few interested colleagues, along with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, formed a research group called Research in OsteoChondritis of the Knee (ROCK) and put together best practices. Today, ROCK has about 60 surgeon members across the world and several ongoing research projects. More recently, Dr. Shea has become involved with another OCD research group, ROCKET, that studies osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow.

“Dr. Shea knew exactly how to treat me. He performed an MRI to double-check my OCD because he didn’t want to do surgery just to do surgery,” Jaiden says. “I’m so glad we found him, because we learned my elbow was never going to heal on its own because of those two pieces of bone floating around.”

After surgery, Jaiden required about 25 sessions of sports physical therapy, both in person and virtually, when she went to Southern California to compete on an alternate club team while her regular club team at Stanford University was on pause during the pandemic. Her physical therapist, Tim Liu, PT, DPT, tailored exercises for diving to have the greatest impact.

“When we understand the ins and outs of our patients’ sports and we know what movements they need to be able to do, we empower them to get back to their sports more quickly,” Liu says.

He helped Jaiden regain range of motion so she could put her arms over her head and lock out her elbows. They also worked on doing handstands to get her prepared for taking off from the diving platform.

“Jaiden came in ready to work. She was determined to get back to diving,” Liu says. “She’s a positive, bubbly person, and that’s an advantage as an athlete when it comes to overcoming setbacks.”

Jaiden’s care didn’t end with surgery, follow-up care, and physical therapy. She also saw Emily Kraus, MD, director of the Female Athlete Science and Translational Research (FASTR) Platform and a sports medicine physician with the Female Athlete Program at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health.

“The type of care we deliver is unique. It’s very individualized for each athlete, and we’ve got an entire multidisciplinary team under one roof. It’s truly a one-stop shop for athletes,” says Dr. Kraus.

The Female Athlete Program brings together sports medicine physicians, adolescent medicine physicians, physical therapists, and athletic trainers to expressly care for female athletes, who have different needs than male athletes. For example, females who play high-impact sports are more prone to compromised bone health, which can lead to microfractures and bone loss. Bone health is also affected by calcium and vitamin D intake, nutritional balance, and estrogen.

“Bone health is a part of the female athlete triad syndrome, which combines three medical conditions: low energy availability with or without disordered eating, missed or irregular periods, and impaired bone health,” Dr. Kraus says. “By providing all-encompassing care that includes medical care, nutrition support, bone health, and mental health, we empower female athletes to make adjustments before they get to the point of injury or dropping out of a sport.”

At the Children’s Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center, not only do athletes get exceptional care; they get care backed by research. Dr. Kraus is studying female athletes in collaboration with the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance at Stanford University. Her collaborative research helps girls and young women avoid injury and stay at their peak performance. Stanford Medicine Children’s Health is one of only a handful of places in the country that bring together comprehensive research and clinical care for female athletes.

“For Jaiden, we completed a full evaluation, with lab work and blood tests to look at vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and hormonal imbalances,” Dr. Kraus adds.

The Female Athlete Program helped identify that Jaiden was unintentionally underfueling, so a nutritionist worked with her to improve her nutritional and caloric intake.

As a little girl, Jaiden had no fear—something that’s still true today. She’d flip off the board at the community pool and smack on the water, but she’d get right back up and do it again. It’s this true love for her sport that motivates her, more than winning.

“Some people can get overly competitive, but I’m not one of them. I try to keep things lighthearted and balanced,” she says.

For now, Jaiden is focused on enjoying all that diving brings, especially the camaraderie of a close-knit team of young women who travel to exciting places together. Now that she is fully healed, she’s beginning to practice dives with a greater degree of difficulty. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll watch her in the Olympics.

“In 2024, I’ll just be 18, so I’m a little young, but it would be cool to make it to the trials,” Jaiden concludes.

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