Torn from the game

How one freshman athlete found himself on the sidelines before basketball season even began.


Photo Credit: Kathleen Cassidy

Aidan Cassidy recovers post surgery in his hospital bed at The Hospital for Special Surgery. This surgery was needed to fix his knee dislocation, so he could return to sports.

It was just a rec game. The lights were white and bright overhead, making halos of reflection on the floor. Red mats were around the walls to protect players from injury.

The ref blew the whistle sharply.

Aidan whipped a quick pass to his teammate who took a jump shot from the outside. Aidan pumped his fist as he saw it swish in and jogged back to the other side of the court.

The parents in the bleachers stood up, clapping. He looked to see if his parents were in the stands. His mom would be up there somewhere, cheering him on.

But the game started again quickly. The ball was suddenly in his hands and his shoes squeaked as dribbled down the court. He passed to one of his teammates on the outside. His teammate grabbed the ball and rotated the orange orb in his hands as his eyes centered on the hoop. He laid a high arcing shot, the ball dropping like a rainbow toward the hoop.

Aidan ran to the net when the ball hit the rim and popped into the air. He jumped up, trying to claim the rebound for his own.

Then, he went down and down, his foot catching on the hard floor, his leg snapping into an unnatural position with his kneecap on the side of his leg.

That was it. The second time he had injured the same knee, he was down — he wouldn’t stand on his own power for months.

The sport for him

Whether it is soccer, football, lacrosse, tennis, cheerleading or hockey, everyone finds where they are meant to be. As he stood next to his classmates, 9 year old Aidan Cassidy noticed he towered over most of them. His discovery soon led him onto the courts and into a game he eventually began to love: basketball.

As a child, Aidan Cassidy knew he wanted to play a sport but couldn’t figure out which sport was right for him. He hoped that whichever sport he chose would help him become the best he could be.

Since as long as he could remember, Aidan attended most of his sister Tara’s basketball games. As he watched intently, Aidan became interested in the game.

Acknowledging his height and interest in the sport, Aidan enrolled for the basketball team at Academy of Our Lady in third grade.

As a third grader, Aidan participated in the Academy of Our Lady basketball clinic. The clinic introduced basketball and helped young players become comfortable with the game.

Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Aidan Cassidy
Aidan hopes to continue basketball for as long as he can and doesn’t want his knee to stand in the way of his dreams. He has been playing basketball since he was in third grade.

The clinic was weekly and attracted close to 30 interested players. Aidan played with most of his friends and befriended others.

At the clinic Aidan learned basic rules and how to shoot baskets, pass the ball, dribble and defend. If he wasn’t practicing, Aidan was outside at recess playing ball and teaching his friends his new skills.

One of his best memories from this clinic is getting into the game: developing a passion and looking forward to being apart of the fourth grade team.

According to its website, Academy of Our Lady focuses on recreation, participation, sportsmanship, and adherence to Catholic values.

Academy of Our Lady taught Aidan determination and sportsmanship. At the end of third grade Aidan realized his passion lay with basketball, and he made the decision to continue.

From then on, Aidan was apart of the Glen Rock travel team during fourth grade, AOL rec team during fifth grade and AOL basketball team from fourth grade until his graduation year in eighth.

“One of my best moments is, coming from Academy of Our Lady, making the Glen Rock travel team in fourth grade,” Cassidy said.

At the age of 10, Cassidy signed up for the Glen Rock travel team on which he played for an entire year. He befriended many Glen Rock public school students, who eventually would make his transition into public school easier.

During fourth grade, playing for the travel team Aidan met a friend who is one of his best friends today.

“We have been playing basketball together since fourth grade,” Bobby Gifford said.

Aidan met Bobby through this team, as well as many others he is still friends with today.    

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Aidan Cassidy
Aidan Cassidy and his team pose at a Saint John’s game in 2013. This was his basketball team in sixth grade.

“Aidan has always been one of the stronger players on the team. He is a very good rebounder and very good at finishing under the basket,” Gifford said.

At the age of 11, Aidan tried out for the basketball team at Academy of Our Lady. Since everyone makes the team, Aidan happily accepted the jersey for the next three years until he graduated and left the school in 2016.

For the basketball team, Aidan had practice two to three times a week and had 10 to 12 games in a season against other Catholic schools. The season began after Thanksgiving and ended with playoffs around St. Patrick’s Day.

AOL teams are evenly divided and each player receives at least one quarter of play, with most playing at least a half, regardless of ability.

Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Aidan Cassidy
Aidan Cassidy and his friend Brett Callahan pose with Ant Atkinson, a player for the Harlem Globetrotters. They went to a Harlem Globetrotter game back in 2014.

At the end of his season in 2016, Aidan had to say goodbye to the beautiful, refurbished gym at Academy of Our Lady as he would be graduating and making a change into a public school.

Aidan practiced hard, played hard and carried his skills with him.

Athlete down

The players ran across the shiny wooden floor, squeaking their shoes in a rhythmic squeal as the popping sound of balls hitting palms and backboards punctuated the gymnasium like a well-written sentence.

The hoop’s perfect white backboard vibrated continually as a barrage of rough orange basketballs banged off of it. Running up and down the long court, eager players either defend or shoot the ball, trying not to run out of the boundaries marked on the court in black tape. The loud buzzer sounds as time runs out.

This was the scene Aidan imagined; high school basketball tryouts were two days away, yet he was looking up from his hospital bed at The Valley Hospital as the doctor gave him his results.

“Well, it is definitely dislocated,” the ER doctor said.

That is not what Aidan wanted to hear. He was already stressed out about tryouts.

Hours prior, Aidan and other Glen Rock High School basketball players had been in the open gym, shaping up their skills and practicing before tryouts began.

His teammates watched as Aidan jumped up to shoot a basket. The orange orb rotated in his hand, as his life depended on this shot. His main focus? Perfecting his skills for tryouts that were right around the corner.

He jumped up… up… up… as if he were never coming back down. The bright orange ball swished into the basket. Aidan grabbed onto the net, owning the perfect shot he just made. Imagining that one day he would be in the same position, but instead of practicing in his high school gym, he was shooting the winning basket for his NBA team.

As he came down ready to claim victory, it was not the wood floor he landed on, it was another person’s basketball sneaker.

Aidan Cassidy’s foot bent inwards.

It almost did not register in my mind that I had hurt myself because it was the first time I had ever had a major injury.

— Aidan Cassidy

Aidan says he’ll never forget the feeling as he crumbled to the floor screaming in a tremendous amount of pain.

“It felt like I had hit knees with someone,” Aidan said.

When he landed on the ground, he searched for who I had hit him. The only thing he saw to his horror was his kneecap on the outside of his knee. He could no longer bend it, surrendering to the floor in silent shock.

“It almost did not register in my mind that I had hurt myself because it was the first time I had ever had a major injury,” Aidan said.

An ambulance was called and Aidan was rushed to the hospital. The ER doctor manually reset his knee and sat him out of basketball for three weeks.

Aidan tried to stay positive because the doctor had told him he would only miss the first few weeks rather than the whole season.

For those tedious three weeks, Aidan did physical therapy. He was eager to get back to basketball. Nothing was stopping him. He got cleared and returned to the courts. He participated in three practices and after the third one found himself back on the floor screaming in pain. This time, it was a rec basketball game.

Down again

It was just three practices later. He had done three weeks of physical therapy and listened to the doctor, done everything he was told to do to recover. Yet, somehow, he was back on the floor. Unable to move, Aidan shut his eyes and hoped it was just a dream. It wasn’t.

That day, Aidan had just finished his third practice. Feeling good, he walked out and got ready for his rec basketball game that would follow the same night.

Aidan played on the green team. His team consisted of fellow Glen Rock ninth graders playing against other Glen Rock freshman. The game was in the Glen Rock Middle School gymnasium.

Aidan was wide open with no one covering him, the perfect setup to make a shot. His teammate passed him the ball. Aidan jumped, caught it, and landed on the floor. But when he landed, he felt a similar feeling in his leg. He knew exactly what the feeling felt like… the last injury.

His number one fan, his mom, was watching from the stands and cheering him on. Anxious and nervous, she watched as his leg came down and snapped into an unnatural position. She could tell he was in pain.

She raced over to him to see what happened.

Aidan landed on the ground, and his leg was stuck. Scared to look down, he could nevertheless tell that his knee had popped out.

“This time was more painful because my leg was resting on my opposite foot,” Cassidy said.

Where his knee was supposed to be, his foot was supporting his leg. He couldn’t move it because his bending ability was immediately gone.

“I received the pass after my team eventually got the ball, and all I heard was him saying ‘oh my god.’ I turned around and saw him looking at his knee with his knee cap on the total opposite side of where it was supposed to be,” freshman Bobby Gifford said.

Someone dialed 911 while Aidan remained on the floor.

“He was in a great deal of pain on the floor when I went over to him,” said freshman teammate Colin Consoli.

Elizabeth Carr, my mother, was an EMT who responded to the call and helped transport Aidan to Valley Hospital. Carr and her crew arrived to find Aidan laying on the ground.

“When I arrived he was on the ground in quite a bit of pain. My understanding is that this was the second time in recent months he had dislocated his knee,” Carr said.

His leg remained in the same position on the stretcher until he got to the hospital. His mom went along with him.

You have fully dislocated it twice and have torn your MPFL ligament which is the ligament that holds your kneecap in place. The way to fix this is surgery.

— Dr. Shubin Stein

The emergency room doctor “popped” his knee back into place and put him on crutches. He would have to follow up with an orthopedist.

The following week Aidan went to his doctor. He found out the worst news, the news he dreaded most.

“You have fully dislocated it twice and have torn your MPFL ligament which is the ligament that holds your kneecap in place. The way to fix this is surgery,” the doctor said.

For a surgery that extensive, the recovery time is five to seven months. Aidan would lose the rest of his basketball season and lacrosse season.

“I feel very bad for Aidan getting injured. From what I understand he was preparing a lot for this season and looked very good up until his injury,” Gifford said.

Road to Recovery

January 31, 2017. The day Aidan had dreaded most had finally come. As much as he didn’t want it, Aidan knew that the surgery was the only way to recover and get back on the court.

It was a snowy day. Aidan and his mother had to drive into the city. His surgery would take place at The Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Aidan didn’t attend school that day.

At 1 p.m., his friends were at school in class, but Aidan was sitting by the front door of his house tieing his shoes waiting for his mom who was going with him.

Aidan opened the car door and hopped in. He looked at the clock, 1:05. He had to be at the hospital at 3:30. He slowly watched as time counted away, knowing soon he would be at the mercy of skilled doctors who would reconstruct his knee.

He watched out the car window as snowflakes fell onto the road. He looked up at the skyscrapers surrounding him.

Aidan and his mother arrived at the hospital at 2:45, and he began to worry. It was only two hours and fifteen minutes until he was going to be lying on the operating table.

“I was very nervous before the surgery but I knew that I would be fine because my sister had the exact same surgery,” Cassidy said.

Aidan and his sister would both have had MPFL surgery for recurrent patella (kneecap) dislocations after his operation. Tara and Aidan had both also experienced more than one knee dislocation. Yet, neither of their parents had ever experienced a knee dislocation before.

“It may be hereditary for Tara and Aidan,” Kathleen Cassidy said, although she couldn’t explain why neither she nor her husband had the same issues.

His father met the two at the hospital.

“Aidan Cassidy!” the nurse called.

They called him into a room in the hospital where he changed into a gown.  

Aidan walked into his surgery room and lay on the bed.

It was an average hospital room with a bland color on the walls. The smell of a hospital permeated the air until the three family members stopped noticing it was there. Aidan was laying in a comfortable bed with warm white sheets and white pillows. The small television mounted to the wall showed a variety of channels.The floor was a pale gray color.

The nurse put an IV into his arm. His parents sat next to him. His mother held his hand.

Aidan spoke to the anesthesiologist so he knew who he was and knew what would happen. The anesthesiologist explained what he was putting into his IV.

His parents squeezed his hand and wished him good luck. Nervous, Aidan had butterflies in his stomach. He listened to the doctor.

“I remember him putting two shots into my arm,” Cassidy said. That was the last he would remember before waking up.

It was 5 p.m. and Aidan was getting wheeled out of his hospital room, down the hallway and into the operating room. In the operation room was Doctor Shubin Stein, who was ready to fix Aidan’s knee.

Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Aidan Cassidy
Aidan’s knee incisions are covered with bandages. Before his surgery, Aidan Cassidy’s leg was shaved.

A few hours later, he woke up in the same room having just come off anesthesia. He fell back to sleep several times.

Aidan looked down and saw his leg in a CPM (continuous passive motion) machine which was bending his leg. He was in and out of sleep, very tired from the anesthesia.

He really had to use the bathroom, so the nurses tried to help him out of bed and to the bathroom. His blood pressure skyrocketed. He stopped and became nauseous and dizzy. Laying back down on his bed, Aidan tried to get some sleep.

He finally got out of the hospital at 11:50 the same night. His parents helped him into the car. Aidan couldn’t wait to be home and in his own bed.

“It was scary just having the surgery in general,” Cassidy said.

Returning to his dark green room, his favorite color as a child, Aidan felt as if weeks had passed in a single day. Everything was a little alien to him, although he could picture it in his mind: a walk-in closet filled with all of his shirts and pants; a full-sized comfortable bed with a multi-colored bed spread; a small television on his night stand; a large Notre Dame mascot Fathead stuck to the wall; souvenirs collected from places he had visited.

This room is where Aidan Cassidy spent most of his time resting and recovering from his knee injury. He spent three long days laying in bed, missing school and trying to rest his knee after the surgery.

Photo Credit: Aidan Cassidy
Aidan Cassidy’s knee is all bandaged up and attached to a splint after his surgery. He had this splint until he got his new knee brace, which he still wears every day to aid the healing process.

In total, Aidan missed five days of school. While he was at home, he tried to do his school work but pain medication made it hard to concentrate. He was a week behind the rest of his class.

“When I came back, I was getting time to made up work. However, what some students had five days to learn, I had three and then was quizzed on it,” Cassidy said.

The next day, one of Aidan’s best friends came to his house to visit.

“He was in a good mood,” Consoli said. Despite his pain level, Aidan kept a smile on his face.

His teammates can hardly wait to see Aidan return to basketball. Aidan will continue with physical therapy at Glen Rock Physical Therapy and continue to practice, to shape up for the upcoming year.

His parents know their son will soon be ready. They’re “looking forward to watching Aidan back in sports next year.”

Yet despite the optimism, it isn’t an easy healing process.

Overcoming Injury

His teammates ran up and down the courts effortlessly. Aidan watched from the sidelines, cheering on his teammates.

It should be me on the court, Aidan thought to himself. Nothing was going to stand in Aidan’s way. His mom had always taught him to be determined and that was exactly what was on his mind.

As he continued with physical therapy for three weeks, he continued to see progress in his knee and could soon return to basketball.  

Kathleen Cassidy, Aidan’s mother, said that the doctor and physical therapist was “pleased with his progress.”

After four long and torturous weeks, the doctor cleared Aidan and he returned to the courts, just as he wanted. Happy as ever, Aidan threw on his jersey and headed out the door in a mad rush. After what had seemed like forever, he could hardly wait to be back in the game. Hopefully, he would never have to experience that again.

Unfortunately he did.

The second time Aidan suffered from an injury he wasn’t so lucky. After his surgery, the doctor said at minimum he would be out of all sports for five to seven months.

In the spring, Aidan usually played lacrosse. However, as a freshman, he is unable to play because of his knee. Sitting on the sidelines frustrates Aidan because all he wants is to be able to play, but he cannot.

“I miss sports in general because I haven’t been able to run since December,” Cassidy said.

Looking back on his first injury, Aidan wishes he wouldn’t have rushed and taken his time returning to basketball. This way, he would be able to have some of his basketball season and all of his lacrosse season.

“Stay in best shape you can. Listen to doctor and physical therapist,” his mother says to Aidan.

Listening to his mom’s advice, Aidan comes home from school and ices his knee nearly every day. He also does exercises that the physical therapist gave him to strengthen his knee.

“I was upset that I had to miss basketball and that I would be out for so long,” Cassidy said, “but I do what I am supposed to do and look forward to next season.”

Aidan realizes that rushing back to basketball was not the best idea and to prevent something like this from happening again, he now knows to take his time. Although Aidan has to pay the painful price, and someone has to pay quite literally.

Injuries aren’t cheap. From ankle sprains to surgery the bills add up. Hospital trips, doctor appointments, physical therapy and the actual surgery all cost a deal of money. Kathleen explained that it can be expensive to have a child suffer an injury, however, medical insurance covers most of the hospital charges and physical therapy.