"Defying all odds": How these twin athletes overcame their ACL tear and dislocated knee injuries, together – Nebraska Medicine

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Published November 11, 2022

Published November 10, 2022
Griffin and Audrey Behrens
“Defying all odds”: How these twin athletes overcame their ACL tear and dislocated knee injuries, together 
When it comes to twins, Griffin and Audrey Behrens couldn’t be much closer. Growing up, they were inseparable. They had the same thoughts, finished each other’s sentences, and practically had their own language, recalls their mother, Michelle. 
Both were very athletic and played many of the same sports as kids. But as they entered high school at Westside High School, they began narrowing their focus – Griffin on football and wrestling and Audrey on volleyball. Both have big dreams of playing in college. 
During Griffin’s freshman year, those dreams were almost shattered. In February 2020, he was wrestling in a district tournament when his opponent lunged at his knee, causing a knee dislocation. He went to Nebraska Medical Center, where an MRI revealed tears of the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and lateral-collateral ligaments, as well as a hamstring tendon and complete disruption of a major nerve. 
Given the gravity of the situation, he was seen immediately by two members of the orthopaedic surgery team. 

Griffin and Audrey Behrens
Griffin and Audrey Behrens

“Knee dislocations are devasting injuries and can be a life-changing event,” says Dr. Tao, who specializes in sports medicine. “We had a long conversation with Griff and his parents about the injury and the outlook going forward.” 
“I knew it was bad, but I was just so happy that I didn’t have to have my leg amputated,” says Griffin. “That’s when I vowed to do whatever it took to get back on the field.” 
Dr. Tao shared a similar outlook, and the partnership that ensued was special. “We hate seeing injuries like this, but we also believe that this is an area where our team can shine,” he says. “This level of complexity requires a multidisciplinary approach where everyone on the team has a unified vision and works together.” 
In Griffin’s case, one of the critical components of his treatment was the expertise provided by Dr. Morgan, a hand surgeon with specialized training in peripheral nerve injuries. The initial surgery involved reconstruction of the common peroneal nerve – the large nerve behind the knee that provides the ability to move the foot. The severe state of the injury required Dr. Morgan to take a nerve graft from Griffin’s ankle to rebuild the damaged segment. 
“Griff’s case was particularly challenging because of the size of the nerve and the fact that it ripped apart, but the surgery went very well,” notes Dr. Morgan. At that same time, Dr. Tao reconstructed the structures on the outside of Griffin’s knee to restore stability. 
Dr. Tao later performed a second surgery to reconstruct the ACL. Griffin then began to focus on rehab with an outside therapist, Claire Rathjen. Another important team member was Caitlin Johnson, BSN, RN, who helped to coordinate all of Griffin’s care and developed a tight bond along the way. “One of the best parts of sports medicine is working with kids like Audrey and Griff,” says Johnson. “I love getting to know them, being someone they can rely on, and watching them go through their journeys to get back on the field.” 

Matthew Tao, MD, and Joseph Morgan, MD
Matthew Tao, MD, and Joseph Morgan, MD

Through it all, Griffin’s twin sister, Audrey, was constantly by his side as his strongest supporter. But in their typical “twin fashion,” roles reversed in the spring of 2021 when Audrey’s volleyball team was competing for a bid to nationals. While setting at the net, Audrey landed awkwardly on her right leg and felt a pop. Though her injury was not as severe as Griffin’s, Audrey also had torn her ACL and meniscus.  
“Now I know I said they have a lot in common, but this was taking it a little too far,” laments their father, Bryan. 
Audrey also chose Dr. Tao for her care and went down a similar road with ACL reconstruction. This was followed by a year of rehab with Rathjen in which the twins worked side by side every session. 
Both Audrey and Griffin agree that Dr. Tao was also an important source of support and encouragement during their recoveries. “He definitely pushed us,” says Griffin. “He said it was up to me as to what I could accomplish depending on how hard I worked in physical therapy.” 
The twins took those words to heart and never gave up – neither on their recoveries or their dreams of collegiate athletics. Impressed by their resolve, Dr. Tao says, “one of the neatest things about these two is their mindset. They have such a strong will to succeed, a willingness to put in the necessary work, and the ability to constantly remain positive.” 
Griffin returned to the gridiron in the fall of 2021 as part of Westside’s state championship runner-up team. Audrey has returned to club volleyball and is eager for the high school season ahead. 
“They are defying all odds,” says Michelle. “We never imagined they would be competing again at the level they are now. They both showed grit, determination, and the mental fortitude needed to overcome their injuries and have stayed passionate about their sports. If they could come back this strong after what they’ve been through, there’s nothing they can’t do and we owe that, in part, to Nebraska Medicine.” 
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