Jacob LaMarche came to Nebraska Wesleyan with two passions: football and a possible career in healthcare.
Little did he know how an injury on the field would quickly expose him to a new career path.
LaMarche, a graduate of Ralston High School, easily recalls that fall day in 2016 when he dislocated his left ankle. A sophomore at the time, LaMarche didn’t initially recognize the seriousness of the injury.
“I was in the process of blocking someone when it happened, so I was pretty focused on the play,” he recalled.
NWU’s athletic training staff relocated the joint and sent LaMarche to the hospital. X-rays revealed his medial or lateral malleolus were intact — a rarity with this type of injury — but his deltoid ligament was ruptured along with a fracture near his fibula. Still, doctors seemed baffled that his malleolus, the bony prominence on each side of the ankle, was unharmed.
After two surgeries and months of recovery, LaMarche returned to the field the following season, earning all-conference honors.
While his physical recovery was obvious, LaMarche continued to ponder the uniqueness of his ankle injury.
Then a class assignment required him to examine a lower extremity. LaMarche decided to use his own ankle injury as a case study. Throughout his research, he learned of a rare genetic disease that runs in his family called Ehlers-Danlose Syndrome (EDS). EDS affects the collagen in the body, impacting the joints and ligaments. The disorder affects approximately one in 5,000 people.
Lamarche made a connection between his EDS symptoms and his unusual injury. If the collagen were incorrectly assembled or dysfunctional, as can be the case for those with EDS, then these ligaments do not work as well as they were intended to, being more easily stretched or ruptured.
“Due to the possible presence of EDS, it is likely that I was able to avoid fractures and therefore a more serious injury because my ligaments were defective and gave way to the forces from the injury before the bones did,” he said.
Samantha Wilson, health and human performance professor and director of the university’s athletic training program, quickly recognized the significance of LaMarche’s research and the importance of sharing it on a national stage. That’s when she suggested LaMarche apply to present his research at the Canadian Athletic Therapist Association Conference in Quebec City and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Conference in New Orleans.
“The Athletic Training Program staff and faculty look for ways to make students stand out and presenting at the national convention for athletic training is a great way to do that,” said Wilson. “It is a huge honor to be able to present at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Symposium and the Canadian Athletic Therapist Association Symposium as a student.”
The exposure at the national level was an opportunity he couldn’t ignore. His research and injury experiences opened a door to a major in athletic training.
“Just about everyone who discussed it with me found it to be very interesting and were curious to learn more about EDS,” LaMarche said of his presentation. “It was rewarding to share my unique experience and educate them on a disease that is a big part of many of my family members’ lives.”
“I was unaware of how open and encouraging health science professionals are to student research,” he added. “I did not think when I was preparing to present my case that so many people in the professional world would be so interested in what I had to say and so willing to learn from someone in college.”
LaMarche hung up his football cleats in exchange for the opportunity to work as an athletic training student for the football, wrestling, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s basketball, softball and indoor and outdoor track and field teams.
“I loved my time with the football program and wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said. “It was great that I could still contribute to the team as an athletic training student,” LaMarche said.
This spring LaMarche was awarded the National Athletic Training Association Scholarship. He is among 58 undergraduates in the country to receive the honor. Following his graduation in May, LaMarche will attend physical therapy school at Creighton University.
“My experiences showed me that my education here at NWU has prepared me for my future career more than I ever imagined,” he said.
LaMarche will present his research at Nebraska Wesleyan's Student Research Sympsosium on Wednesday, May 1. His is among 250 presentations being shared by students that day.