When Thomasville High School sophomore and outside linebacker Elijah McNeair, 15, fractured his right ankle and tore some surrounding ligaments in the second quarter of a Friday night football game, athletic trainer Kaila Nyepon was one of the first people at his side.

“Miss Kaila helped carry me off the field. She was there, telling me it was OK,” McNeair said. “She helped me rehab both physically and mentally.”

Nyepon is there for student athletes like McNeair because of Novant Health’s sports medicine program that provides athletic training services to area high schools. She works with students competing in all sports, all year long.

“I’m here to help all students whether they are athletes or not,” she said. “The kids have grown to accept me and understand me and know they can come by the training room for help.”

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McNeair suffered the horrific injury in September 2023 when a teammate fell on his leg during a play that went awry. Nyepon popped his ankle back into place and put his leg in a splint for stabilization. He was transported to Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center’s emergency department. An X-ray revealed the break and ruptured ankle tendons. The next day he went to see Dr. Steven Potter, a surgeon at Novant Health Orthopedics & Sports Medicine - Thomasville.

Dr. Steven Potter

Potter explained that McNeair’s fibula – the small bone on the outside of the ankle – was fractured, requiring surgery. “The fibula was fixed by putting a metal rod inserted through the middle of the bone, holding the fracture in place,” he said. “I then used a device called a tightrope, which is like a cinch, to stabilize the torn ligaments. There have been scientific studies that show some athletes are able to return to activity faster when the rod is used instead of a plate and screws to fix the fracture.”

A faster recovery and return to sports – especially football – was definitely what McNeair wanted. He’s a four-sport athlete who has dreams of earning a football scholarship to a home-state school. His season was over, but he still wanted to be there for the team.

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