Doctor compares rarity of Auburn gymnast Samanta Cerio's knee injuries to 100-year storm

Auburn gymnastics star and newly employed aerospace engineer Samantha Cerio’s gruesome injury holds a one percent chance of occurring, doctors said, but she didn’t wallow in it and walked down the aisle at her wedding.

Cerio went viral after dislocating both knees and tearing multiple ligaments at the NCAA regional semifinals. It was plastered all over the internet, prompting the college senior to avoid social media after posting a statement that concluded “my pain is not your entertainment.”

She walked at graduation with crutches one month later and walked down the aisle without them a month after that for a second viral moment. The details of her rare injury, called a “100-year storm” type occurrence by her doctors, and her rehab leading up to the viral wedding moment were captured in a feature by Andrea Adelson for espnW.

Auburn gymnast Samantha Cerio suffered a once-in-100 years type injury when she dislocated both of her knees in April. (Getty Images)

One degree change caused knee dislocations

Cerio landed awkwardly while performing a handspring double front, which requires a blind landing, during the NCAA regional semifinals in April in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She told espnW she could tell something was off with her run and initially believed she had hyperextended her knees.

Dr. Benton Emblom, a colleague of renowned sports doctor James Andrews, performed the surgery and explained to espnW how he thinks the injury happened. He said her knees were slightly hyperextended and she under-rotated. She missed the mark by one degree on a 360-degree scale, he said.

"That one degree was enough to force all of the energy to the backs of her knees, rather than up through the bones. When they land perfectly and flat, the impact goes right up through the bones — through the feet, tibias, femurs, up to the waist, perfect. In this case, it was an angle, so it forced the energy out the backs of her knees and it blew out all the ligaments and caused the fracture on the left side."

Cerio noted to espnW one of the reasons the video went viral so quickly was because gymnastics isn’t viewed as a dangerous sport and many don’t think of it as one that results in serious injuries. As shown by Cerio, though, even one degree off the mark can be the difference between winning a medal and losing use of both legs.

Cerio’s injury will probably never happen again

Cerio was taken to Birmingham, Alabama, on a private plane for the surgery. Andrews and Emblem flew in from Florida to perform what they saw as a once-in-100 years type event. Emblom told espnW:

"Just to put things in perspective, Dr. Andrews has been taking care of athletes for 45 years, and he said he'd never seen a bilateral knee dislocation in an athlete. So it's kind of like a 100-year storm. I'll probably never see it again."

The reference is to a storm that has a one percent chance of happening in any given year. Also rare was how it happened within the ligaments. Per espnW, all of the ligaments in both knees were pulled cleanly and completely off the bone and required no major reconstruction. Emblom fixed the PCL on her left knee. On her right knee, he realigned the bones in the knee and fixed the ACL, PCL and three other ligaments.

The surgery took less than three hours rather than the expected six to eight, per espnW, because all of the best possible scenarios happened, Emblom said.

“I've never seen an injury that severe that was that amenable to repairing in a timely fashion.”

He said the injury would be the worst rating on the scale, but she was able to have a “somewhat more manageable” recovery because of the clean tears and lack of massive swelling in both legs.

How Cerio walked at her wedding

Cerio’s singular goal was to walk at her wedding, held almost two months to the day after her injury. She married fellow Auburn grad Joseph “Trey” Wood III on June 1 in Fairhope, Alabama. EspnW reported the wedding was rushed since Wood was going to receive his commission in the Navy and head to Charleston, South Carolina, and Cerio was initially set to begin a full-time job with Boeing in Seattle.

The former gymnast was first fitted with large braces that went nearly the entire length of each leg. Auburn set her up across from the athletic facility to make rehab easier and arranged for a motorized scooter, according to espnW. Professors worked with her to finish final coursework over the last few weeks and the rest of her time was spent with “intentional” work in physical therapy.

Emblom credited her commitment and attitude in her recovery. Her new husband told espnW she’s “like a ball. You drop her, she bounces. It’s a miracle how quickly she’s come back.”

Her positive outlook began in the first hours and days after she went viral, first with an inspiring message on Instagram and next with her request that people think more critically about who it hurts when they share gruesome, life-altering viral content.

Cerio took the 25 steps down the aisle on her own, with her father but without her crutches, and was able to take a position with Boeing in Charleston to stay with Wood and continue her rehab.

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