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Sunday, May 16
Updated: May 19, 10:42 PM ET
Milton-Jones finds a miracle

By Nancy Lieberman
Special to ESPN.com

The pain was excruciating.

The doctor, a man she had just met, was driving his thumbs into the sore tissue around her right knee, which her other doctors insisted required surgery.

DeLisha Milton-Jones
DeLisha Milton-Jones tore her ACL on Feb. 22, but played in two exhibition games last week.
Instead, here she was in Austria, praying, biting her lip and trying to remember to breathe as the doctor's thumbs probed deeper.

Nine days had passed since DeLisha Milton-Jones had suffered what two MRIs revealed as a torn ACL, and she still couldn't bear weight on her right leg. But ever since twisting the knee during practice for the USA Basketball Senior National Team on Feb. 22, the 6-foot-1 forward refused to believe the ligament was torn. Something inside of her urged her to believe the knee would be OK.

So turning her back on traditional medicine, Milton-Jones was relying on the Austrian physician, Dr. Mohammad Khalifa, and his "knee tissue manipulation," which is believed to stimulate re-growth of the tissue in a non-invasive procedure. Khalifa told Milton-Jones his hands are so sensitive that he can feel the nerve endings in the body, and by rubbing his thumbs in a circular motion on the front of Milton-Jones' knee, Khalifa believes he stimulates those nerve endings to help encourage the body's natural healing process.

Milton-Jones, who has started for the Los Angeles Sparks for the past five seasons, wanted desperately to believe. The WNBA season was just around the corner, and the Olympics were a mere six months away. Surgery would surely put both in jeopardy, so Khalifa and the two 90-minute sessions a week he required were certainly worth taking a chance on.

If only those thumbs would stop digging. And then, they did.

"Stand up," Khalifa said.

Milton-Jones grabbed for her crutches, but Khalifa shook his head. Then he asked the unthinkable: "Jog in place."

So Milton-Jones took a tentative step. Quickly, she realized the knee felt stable, almost normal. And pretty soon, Khalifa had her jumping off the injured knee as if going for a layup, then doing defensive slides -- completely pain-free.

"How does it feel?" he asked. The knee felt good, but Khalifa wasn't satisfied.

"We do not want 'good,' " he said. "We want perfect."

Khalifa then went to work rubbing the back of Milton-Jones' knee. And when he was done and had her go through the same drills, the knee, in fact, felt perfect. She had good range of motion, and the swelling was minimal.

"It was a miracle," Milton-Jones said recently when recounting the experience during a phone interview.

How else can you describe her recovery? Although two MRIs -- one by USA Basketball shortly after the initial injury and a second test five weeks later by the L.A. Sparks -- indicated a complete tear of the ACL in her right knee, Milton-Jones' latest MRI shows scar tissue but no tear.

Milton-Jones credits the president of the Russian club team she plays for in the offseason for getting her back to the court so quickly. During a phone conversation with UMMC Ekaterinburg Russia President Shabtai Kulmonich, he told Milton-Jones he'd help in any way possible and make sure she had the best doctors. Shortly after their conversation, he paid to fly Milton-Jones and her husband, Roland Jones, who also has played professional basketball in Russia, to see Khalifa, who had a reputation of helping players with similar knee injuries to begin playing again with 1½ months of treatment from him.

"Dr. Khalifa does miracles for people, but he told me he doesn't want a lot of attention," Milton-Jones said.

Khalifa, who begins each day at 4 a.m. with more than 300 fingertip push-ups to keep his fingers strong, only sees four patients a day because of all the energy he uses to heal. And he insists his patients follow a strict regimen after their two visits with him are completed, including daily massages with a cream he gives them, and another not-so well known healing ointment: cheese.

"He told me I had to find this cheese, topfen, and put it on my knee like a paste every day because it sucks out the inflammation," Milton-Jones said.

Khalifa also stressed the mental healing process, reminding Milton-Jones that her mind, as well as her knee, suffered a trauma. So putting the injury behind her and "removing the burden of injury" from her mind, Milton-Jones resumed her normal training of running, lifting and squatting. And again, there was no pain.

Milton-Jones practiced with the Sparks for the first time on May 7. L.A.'s doctors have asked that she wear a knee brace, and although she admits it gives her a measure of security, she wears it but insists she doesn't need it. Playing in two of L.A.'s three exhibition games, Milton-Jones averaged 6.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 19.5 minutes. That's a far cry from the 13.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.6 steals she averaged in 30 starts for the Sparks last season, but it's a start.

And as for the Olympics? Milton-Jones remains a core member of the national team, which still has one opening and is expected to announce its final team member in the coming weeks. The Sparks are video taping Milton-Jones every day in practice -- she wants to forward the tapes to the team's selection committee to let them know she really has returned to the court after the injury.

Miracle or not, Milton-Jones knows it feels great to be back on the court, although she never believed she'd be away for that long.

"Even after I saw the first MRI, I couldn't believe I had torn my ACL," she said. "It was a feeling from inside, and I told my mom that even though some people would think I was crazy, that there was going to be some sort of a miracle because I just didn't think I had torn it."

And now, the only problem Milton-Jones has is getting her friends to believe she really is OK.

"I've always been someone who, when I twist an ankle or knee in practice, I get up and keep playing," she said. "So everybody, even my closest friends, think I'm lying now and not telling the truth. They just think I'm sucking up the pain. But I'm fine. I'm really fine."

Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.

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