Hopeless To Hopeful: Comeback Kid Swims Thanks to The Expertise of Dr. Gillespie


Emma’s passion for swimming started at only five years old, and at age nine, her family moved to Cumming, Georgia, where she swam for Swim Atlanta Midway.

Her coach Max soon realized that Emma had a gift. Her determination to work and train hard to succeed made her stick out.

Emma quickly moved up to the advanced group after meeting the standards and because of her ability to train well.

“This was the start of something really special. It was her opportunity!”

Swimming Backward


At age 12, Emma was headed to her biggest short-course state meet yet, ranking higher than she has before. This meet was going to be her breakout year, according to Coach Max.

With only two weeks left before the big meet, disaster struck.

Emma was with friends at a trampoline park. She had done back handsprings dozens of times, but this time was different. She landed on her arm wrong and injured her elbow.

Fortunately, Emma’s family was told by another swim family where they should go to get her injury taken care of. 

Within two days of her injury, Emma was able to get into The Hand & Upper Extremity Center of Georgia, where fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bryce Gillespie was ready to fix her up.


Moving Forward One Stroke at a Time

When Dr. Gillespie began surgery, it was a worst-case scenario. He realized that at the time of impact, Emma completely tore all the ligaments in her elbow and dislocated it.

Upon further inspection, he noticed something different about Emma’s good arm. The nerve around her funny bone was not stationary as is common in most other people, but it moves back and forth over the bone when bent.

With this observation in mind, Dr. Gillespie installed a screw to hold the bone back together, moved her nerve over, and used an anchor to hold everything in place. If left unattended, the nerve would have rubbed over the screw, and Emma would have felt it.

After the two-hour surgery, the family felt assured thanks to Dr. Gillespie’s meticulous and attentive expertise.

The day after her surgery, Emma was in high spirits, but that soon changed. She missed the pool, and she missed her teammates.

That evening, her parents took her to practice. Her team welcomed her with a poster-board card and signed her cast. They continued to show their support at the championships and took it upon themselves (literally) to write #4EMMA on their arms before the start of finals.

“It was an emotional moment to see this from her teammates.”

After two weeks of having a cast from her hand to her shoulder, Emma was ready to get it removed and start physical therapy.

Each week, Emma did more than what was asked of her. She was determined to show Kelsey, her physical therapist, that she was improving.

For eight weeks, Dr. Gillespie’s team worked with her before she started physical therapy with an external therapist who worked specifically to get Emma swimming again. For three long months, Emma was easing herself back in.

Emma’s time away from competing gave her the chance to watch the NCAA USA Swimming Championship held at Georgia Tech. She was able to see Olympians compete live.

“I think attending this meet helped keep her determined to get back to swimming.”

Finally, the day came when she was reaching her goals in therapy and participating in a full practice.

A Comeback


After months of preparation, Emma was ready and felt confident to dive back into swimming competitively. Her hard work had paid off but was short-lived. She won the 400-meter individual medley event but was disqualified due to incorrect technique. Coach Max tried to have it overturned, but the judgment was unchangeable.

Even though it was a disappointing outcome, Emma still felt like she won, and her family celebrated as if she did.

Over the years, Emma continues to succeed. From being invited to the Senior 1 practices to becoming a member, Emma’s goal is to join the national group within one season.

With the help and expertise of Dr. Gillespie and the therapy team at The Hand & Upper Extremity Center of Georgia, Emma’s goals to swim at a D1 college and qualify for Olympic trials are now possible and within reach. 

As a fellowship-trained orthopedic hand, wrist, elbow, and nerve surgeon, Dr. Gillespie has extensive expertise in common and complex injuries and conditions affecting the arm, elbow, forearm, wrist, and hand. If you’re working to overcome pain or dysfunction, Dr. Gillespie is available for consultation at our Atlanta, Alpharetta, and Cumming offices. Call (404) 255-0226 for an appointment or request an appointment online.