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June 1st, 2017

Olympic Gold Medalist’s Search for Pain Relief Spans 3 Continents and 32 Years

By In the Loop

Romanian gymnast Lavinia Agache won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics. The next year, her gymnastics career was cut short by a devastating knee injury that would plague her for decades. This year, she finally found relief at Mayo Clinic — thanks in part to an enduring friendship with a Mayo Clinic physical therapist.

Romanian gymnast Lavinia Agache won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, but her gymnastics career was cut short by a devastating knee injury that would plague her for decades. This year, she finally found relief at Mayo Clinic


In 1980, competition to gain a spot at the Olympic Training Center in Romania was fierce, both for athletes and the medical professionals who cared for them. "It was the best place to work," Lucia Dumitrascu tells us. "The communist government put a lot of money into the Olympic centers. The best specialists in the country worked there." After passing a series of "strenuous" exams, Dumitrascu, now a physical therapist at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, became part of that team. While there, she met a young gymnast named Lavinia Agache. "I was like her second mother," Dumitrascu says of Agache, who was a member of the Romanian team that won gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics.

A year after that victory, Agache was competing in Japan when she experienced a devastating knee injury that abruptly ended her competitive career. Despite numerous procedures and countless hours of therapy over the years, the injury would plague her for more than three decades.

This spring, Agache finally found relief, thanks to her former trainer. The two have remained close since both emigrated from Romania to the U.S. in 1991. And after hearing of Agache's ongoing pain despite a recent knee-replacement surgery, Dumitrascu persuaded her longtime friend to come to Mayo Clinic. "I talked with some of my colleagues, and we all agreed that she should come to Mayo for a second opinion," Dumitrascu says.

After an initial appointment with orthopedic surgeon Mark Pagnano, M.D., Agache met with Edward Laskowski, M.D., a sports medicine physician. Dr. Laskowski "examined her and recommended a home therapeutic exercise program that includes specific strengthening exercises, myofascial release techniques, and range-of-motion exercises," Dumitrascu says. The results, she tells us, have been worth their weight in gold. "Lavinia has already reported a 50 percent improvement in her pain," Dumitrascu tells us. And for that, her friend is 100-percent grateful. "She feels that after 32 years of suffering on three different continents, Mayo Clinic has at last provided a resolution to her knee problems."

Dumitrascu tells us she's looking forward to cashing in some vacation time once Agache is fully recovered. "It will be nice to be able to go on trips together again, to go hiking or skiing," she says. In the meantime, Dumitrascu is keeping busy caring for a group she calls her Olympic patients: the Sisters of Saint Francis. "They have the same kind of motivation and work ethic as Olympians," she tells us. "You have to hold them back or they'll overdo it."

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Tags: Dr Edward Laskowski, Dr. Mark Pagnano, Employee Stories, Lucia Dumitrascu, Orthopedics, Patient Stories, sports medicine

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