Surgeries create remarkable turnaround for Spiders' Powell

Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch—November 12, 2009

If you're looking for the happiest, most enthusiastic, most appreciative women's basketball player in the state, begin and end your search in the Robins Center with Kara Powell.

Powell, the University of Richmond's junior point guard, has returned to full-time - and pain-free - duty following a pair of complicated surgeries on her left knee. Those procedures were accompanied by two forgettable seasons.

The 2007-08 season was laced with discomfort and frustration. Last season was marked by enforced inactivity. To say she is pleased to once again be performing at full speed and full efficiency is to badly understate the matter.

"I just feel so blessed - so very, very blessed," said Powell, who as a relatively healthy freshman in 2007, started 29 games and averaged 8.1 points and 3.2 assists. "I'm so excited. It's so great to be back. I can't even begin to tell you how much I'm looking forward to it."

Powell underwent an osteochondral allograft, a relatively new procedure in which one or more cartilage plugs from a cadaver are grafted into the patient's knee, in May of 2008. Powell and Spiders coach Michael Shafer understood that, if successful, the surgery could significantly reduce the pain created by Powell's acute cartilage deterioration. The procedure, performed by Dr. Riley Williams of Hospital for Special Surgery, the New Jersey Nets' team physician, accomplished more. Much more.

"I don't want to overstate things by saying, 'This is miraculous,'" Shafer said. "But in terms of where she is now compared to where she was, it's not far from it. She might be better now than she was as a freshman - and I say that because she was awfully good as a freshman. Knowing what she went through two years ago, and seeing the level at which she's playing right now . . . " Shafer paused to search for the proper description. "It's unbelievable. It's simply unbelievable."

Or so it seems. Powell, only slightly more mobile than a statue in 2008, now looks - and says she feels - as frisky as a spring colt.

"No problems," she said. "None whatsoever. There's nothing, absolutely nothing, I can't do. I've been full-go since summer."

Shafer said he literally cannot keep Powell off the court.

"I think she gets offended when I try," he said.

Powell, from Feeding Hill, Mass, persisted when it would have been easy to surrender. She endured more than a few dark days. She recalls sitting in her surgeon's office when the allograft transplant and its rigorous rehabilitation were proposed. "I'll be honest: I almost broke down right there. All I could think was, 'Oh, no - you mean I'm going to have to go through this whole thing again?'"

She underwent a microfracture procedure following her freshman season. Microfracture surgery seeks to address cartilage deterioration in the knee by drilling tiny holes in the underlying bone. The body's response to these holes is the creation of new cartilage. Typically, but not always. Powell's procedure failed. Her explanation: "They said there was too much damage." The hole in her cartilage, "was too big - about the size of a quarter."

She agreed to another surgery, the ordeal of another round of rehabilitation, and a season as a spectator for the simplest of reasons. She and her sport have forged a relationship that far transcends the ordinary.

Said Powell: "I'm a basketball player. I don't know how else to explain it. This is what I do. This is what I know. I've been playing since I was very young and I didn't want to stop. I couldn't see myself going to school just to be a student. I wanted - I needed - to play basketball, too."

Read the full story at timesdispatch.com.

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