WellSpan Helps High School Soccer Player Return to the Field

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Returning to the soccer field for the first time in more than 18 months was a special moment for Nicole Keeney. The 18-year-old Red Lion High School senior knew she would one day return to action, but the road to that goal was long and difficult.

Nicole Kenney was able to return to the field after an 18-month recovery that included rehabilitation at WellSpan Health.

On Jan. 31, 2019, Nicole was practicing with her teammates when one player chipped the ball into the air, hitting Nicole in the head. She developed a headache and decided to sit out the rest of practice.

“I had never experienced a serious injury before, and going from nothing to extreme head pain where you can’t do anything was awful,” Nicole remembers. “For several days, I just sat in my room. It was dark, there was no noise, and it was the only place where I could be somewhat comfortable.”

Nicole Kenney was aided by this WellSpan Rehabilitation team. (Photo was taken in 2019)

Things didn’t get better in the following days, as she developed extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Her mother, Gloria, took Nicole to WellSpan Sports Medicine, whose physicians quickly realized that Nicole would not be returning to soccer any time soon. Gloria then took her daughter to WellSpan Rehabilitation – Apple Hill Medical Center for outpatient rehabilitation care.

“We had no idea that WellSpan Rehabilitation would become our second home for eight months,” says Gloria, who works as an intern program coordinator at WellSpan-Philhaven Behavioral Health. “There were a lot of days where we couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, honestly. Some days, I was like ‘are you even my child?’ Because she was so far from the Nicole that we’re used to.”

Nicole underwent months of physical and speech therapy. Her speech therapy dealt with memory.

“I’d be given a word, and then I’d do some exercises, and I’d have to remember the word at the end of it,” Nicole recalls. “Or they’d give me a set of numbers, like one, two, three, four, five, and I’d have to say them in reverse. It sounds so easy, but it at first it was very difficult.”

Nicole and Gloria, however, never lost hope. They credit their team at WellSpan Rehabilitation, who reassured Nicole from her first day of rehab.

“They told me from the beginning that their goal was to get me back on the field and playing soccer,” Nicole says. “If they had told me that might not be a possibility, I probably would have lost all hope. But I could tell they were determined to get me back to where I was. They took so much time to help me, and it gave me the confidence to continue fighting to get better.”

“On her worst days, they were patient and kind,” Gloria remembers. “On her good days, they challenged her. It was the right balance. And there was no doubt in my mind that their ultimate goal was her well-being, both mentally and physically. She wasn’t just a number. They truly cared.”

After eight months, Nicole was cleared to play soccer, though due to the season having already started by that point, she wouldn’t return to the field until August 2020.

“Our top priority is to help our patients return to the lifestyle they are used to, allowing them to be physically active and functionally independent,” says Michael Tangert, physical therapist at WellSpan Rehabilitation. “We were thrilled to get Nicole back on the soccer field, and our team makes sure to take that same level of attention and care with each of our patients.”

“The team at WellSpan Rehabilitation was truly amazing,” Nicole says. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I got to see them interact with other patients during my time there, and it wasn’t just me. They treated everyone with a warm, welcoming attitude.”

For more information on the services offered by WellSpan Rehabilitation, visit WellSpan.org/Rehab.