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Tommy John Surgery: A Student-Athlete Goes Under the Knife

Junior Nick Viennas throws a pitch. He will be unable to do so for the next year, as he recovers from Tommy John Surgery.

Junior Nick Viennas throws a pitch. He will be unable to do so for the next year, as he recovers from Tommy John Surgery.

We are facing an epidemic that has been a bane to our youth and sports stars: I am talking about Tommy John surgery. Most people who follow sports, specifically baseball, have probably heard of this surgery.

In 1974, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John permanently damaged his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his elbow, and his career was up in the air. Dr. Frank Jobe, who was the Dodgers team orthopedist at the time, came to John with the idea of a revolutionary surgery that could potentially keep his career alive. This surgery involves the grafting of a replacement tendon from another part of the body to the humerus and ulna bones in the elbow. Ultimately the surgery was a success, and Tommy John went on to play fourteen more seasons.

On October 30, I will be undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Back in 2012, I tore my UCL ligament pitching in a baseball tournament. I immediately knew that I had a significant injury after I threw the pitch. I went to an orthopedist and underwent an x-ray, and when the results of it came in, the doctor told me that my UCL could have ruptured. Because of my young age, my doctor told me I did not require surgery, but I could undergo a six week rehab treatment.

After the six weeks, I was able to resume throwing and my baseball career. Then this summer, while I was pitching during a tournament in Florida, I felt another sharp pain in my elbow. I knew that something was wrong, and I pulled myself out of the game.

When I returned home, I saw the same orthopedist I had seen in 2012. He thought that I had sprained my UCL and wanted me to get an MRI  on my elbow. Being the teenager I was, I thought nothing would come of it, so I passed on the MRI. I thought to myself that it would heal on its own and I’d be okay.

Well, was I wrong. During the first fall baseball game of the season, I pitched and felt a worse pain then I felt during the summer. I finally realized that this was serious and went to get that MRI.

One week later, I visited my doctor to receive the results of the MRI, and he told me that after I tore my UCL in 2012 the tendon never fully healed. To fill the space there, I had a major calcium build up that was preventing me from straightening out my elbow. I had the option to either undergo surgery if I wanted to keep playing baseball or just go on the rest of my life with this condition and say good-bye to baseball.

For anyone who knows, it is hard to say good-bye to something you love. For me, it was too hard to say good-bye to my first love, baseball, and end it this way. I will be updating you on the progress of the surgery and the rehab in a follow-up story next month.

Nick Viennas can be reached at @TheQuillNickV on Twitter.

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