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Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction: Tommy John Surgery

DMC Sports Medicine specialist reconstructs elbow ligament (Tommy John surgery), putting baseball player back in the game.

Aaron “Blaze” Leszczynski loves baseball; he was the pitcher on his high school team for three years. He’d had pain in his elbow during that time, but he pushed through it, like most young athletes…until the day he heard his elbow “pop.” “It just hit right here,” he says. “In the crease of the elbow I’d thrown, and kneeled and grabbed my elbow and just kind of sat there. I didn’t know what to think. I figured I was done for good.”

But a call to his high school coach proved him wrong. “I said, hey, can you help me out, you know; give me some kind of coaching job? I just still want to be involved.” His coach told him he was only 19, too young to be giving up. Coach then gave him a phone number for Dr. Stephen Lemos of the DMC Sports Medicine program and chief of orthopaedic surgery at DMC Surgery Hospital.

Blaze got an appointment right away. Dr. Lemos is an expert in ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, or what’s better known as “Tommy John” surgery.

Tommy John was a pitcher for the L.A. Dodgers who injured his elbow in the 1970s. In a pioneering procedure, doctors replaced the ligament in the elbow of his pitching arm with a tendon from his right forearm. The procedure was so successful that Tommy John went on to pitch for another 13 years, breaking records along the way.

Since that first surgery, thousands of athletes have had “Tommy John” surgery. With most athletes, it happens over time. The ligament degenerates, and needs replacing. In this case, it is a reconstruction.

On the day of the surgery, Dr. Lemos performs a subcutaneous ulnar nerve transposition, which takes the nerve and moves it to the front, riding in a small, protective sling composed outside the muscle. Dr. Lemos then clears the area of the degenerated tissue so he can perform the procedure.

The surgery goes smoothly, and eight days later, Blaze gets his cast removed. Dr. Lemos runs a series of tests immediately to make sure the relocated nerve is doing everything it should. Next, Blaze begins physical therapy (PT). PT starts a week or two after surgery and progresses from basic range of motion work to strengthening. It can take up to a year before Blaze is ready to pitch in a game again. It’s a long commitment, and patients like Blaze do it because the really love the game.

To learn more about Tommy John Surgery, the DMC Sports Medicine program, or to connect with Dr. Stephen Lemos, log onto www.dmc.org or call 888-DMC-2500.

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DMC Surgery Hospital
Stephen Lemos M.D.(Connect with this doctor)
SPECIALTY: Orthopaedic Surgery
BOARD CERTIFICATION: American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery
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