Columbia County teenager returns to football field after surgery


Kenzie Horton has played football most of his life.

The 13-year-old’s mother, Kim Horton, remembers her pushing a soccer ball around the house when she was just 3 years old. As she got older, she joined various leagues including Columbia County Parks and Recreation and the Bulls Soccer Club where she plays. now. She also hopes to someday play for the University of Georgia.

“I stick with that because it’s such an enjoyable sport,” she said.

In March 2018, the left-wing striker was playing in a tournament when she felt her knee crack. She visited the on-site coach who told her everything was fine and she continued to play. After the problems with his knee continued, they went to a doctor who ordered an MRI and said his anterior cruciate ligament was torn.

ACL is not necessarily used for simple tasks like walking but is necessary for rigorous physical activity like playing soccer. Doctors initially said it was a partial tear, but later told her it was a complete tear. She was able to continue playing as long as she was wearing a brace and participating in physical therapy. When told that surgery was not recommended for someone his age due to his growth, his mother decided to seek a different opinion.

It was then that they found Dr. Cliff Willimon, medical director of orthopedic quality and outcomes and pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Healthcare in Atlanta. After visiting her in Athens hospital, Kenzie learned that she might have surgery to repair her ACL. Willimon said he performs surgeries on teenagers every week.

“He was quite comfortable doing the surgery,” Kim said. “There was no concern with his age.”

Willimon said ACLs will not heal on their own and although postponement of surgery has been recommended in the past, it is difficult for children and teens to restrict their activities while they are waiting and can cause other damage.

After undergoing surgery and physical therapy, Kenzie was able to return to the field on August 29, the first anniversary of her operation. Not only was she able to compete, but she also scored a goal for the team. Last weekend she scored three goals in one game. She said she was extremely grateful for the work Willimon was able to do to get her back on the pitch.

“I really feel like I can do anything now,” she said. “It’s probably the hardest thing I’ll ever go through.”