Cole McBay is only 11. But last year he suffered his first major league injury. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL.
"I knew something felt wrong in my knee. It was hurting a lot," said McBay.
The ACL is like a rubber band that stabilizes the knee.
"Without this, if this is gone or torn, your knee will pop out of place," explained Dr. John Xerogeanes. He is Chief of Sports Medicine at Emory Orthopedic and Spine Center.
He said surgical repair is routine for ACL tears in adults but problematic for kids.
"A traditional reconstruction goes right across (here), right across the growth plate. We don't want to do that. You may help their degeneration of their knee by preventing further injury. But you could damage them by going through the growth plate, and potentially causing a growth disturbance or a misalignment of their leg," said Dr. Xerogeanes.
Emory and Georgia Tech researchers developed a new 3-D MRI technology. They say using their data before surgery doctors can accurately pre-plan a safer ACL reconstruction in kids.
"And it's one hundred percent reliable that we can use a large, a fairly large tunnel, larger than we've ever thought we can use before. And never hit the growth plate," said Dr. Xerogeanes.
"He found a way to fix my knee, and get me back playing sports again," McBay said of his surgeon.
Now a year after surgery, Cole has grown stronger and four inches taller. He's a young athlete who's glad to be back in the lineup.
Doctors say successful ACL surgery for kids can mean better outcomes down the road. Multiple studies show if surgery is not performed within two years of an ACL tear, another injury is more likely. And that can lead to degenerative arthritis.