That’s my knee doc! |

That’s my knee doc!

Don Rogers

It’s a bit of reflected glory from the Olympics. I don’t know any of the current athletes, not even those from Vail. At least not personally. Just from reading about them in print, and hearing about them from our sports writers, friends who know them and in Sarah Schleper’s case, her cool father Buzz.

But I know the doc who has been quoted in all the papers and broadcasts about Lindsey Kildow’s big crash during downhill ski practice this week. He surgically repaired my right knee a couple of years ago, on Oct. 8, 2003, during the preliminary court hearing for another Steadman Hawkins patient facing rape charges.

Dr. Sterett was recommended by a friend in the biz who went to nursing school with my wife a few years ago at Syracuse University and works in surgery with all the orthopedic docs. Fast, clean, talented. That was our friend’s book. Only one possiible better would be Richard Steadman himself of the Steadman Hawkins clinic.

These guys do all the athletes. Picabo Street, Kobe Bryant, David Robinson, Dan Marino, the Broncos, the Avs. They are especially big with European soccer players. Downstairs in rehab, it’s like lunch in a Hollywood hotspot for actors, only they are athletes.

Steadman Hawkins is also very big on research. Steadman pioneered micro-fracture knee surgery, for instance, a means of helping cartilage that’s in vogue now. Sterett is active in this aspect like the other main docs in the firm.

They also have fellows each year who learn in Vail from the best in this biz, and have a real reason to be in Vail. Not a bad deal for a young doc. This causes some consternation among locals who knowingly steer folks to less acclaimed local docs. You know, the locals say, the fellows will do the surgery on YOUR knee. The famous docs save themselves for the famous people. Orthopedics to the stars. The local docs do their own work, and they are good, too.

That’s true, if overblown. The fellows scrub down with the name docs, and they do what they are ready for, under the main guy’s supervision. These folks are hardly dolts, though. They are the best of the best young docs, selected carefully for the best orthopedic fellowships out there.

I went first to another doctor who was recommended by one of my colleagues. He looked over my MRI results and clucked the basketball was now history for me. I’d torn some meniscus in my right knee, and the MRI revealed what I’d believed for 20 years: the anterior cruciate ligament had torn apart way back when. That’s why I wore a brace and had sprained the knee over and over again. For whatever reason, the joint had always felt too solid when docs checked it. But the MRI finally proved me right.

The first doc said he’d fix the cartilage, but forget tying the ACL back together. That would be like giving a lung cancer patient packs of cigerrettes, he said. You’ll just go play basketball again. You have a knee for swimming and bike riding. And forget bumps on the ski slopes. No more running, no more basketball.

I’ve gone for a run precisely twice since then. Once with my 14-year-old daughter in the BLM land behind the house, a moment I’ll always treasure. And a week later running the high school cross country course at Beaver Creek after the kids’ meet. That advice wasn’t hard to take.

But give up basketball? Time for a second opinion.

Sterett seemed reluctant about the ACL, even if he didn’t dismiss the thought of fixing it outright. So I harped on it every visit. He agreed to consider it after he cleaned up the cartilage tear. And bless him, he did it.

Of course, the first doc was right. Rather stupidly, I figured I could do lots and lots of squats as part of PT while working on my free throws the next court over from the noontime pickup games. Sure enough, within the month after surgery someone had to leave a team was one short. And there I was, gimping along in games from then on.

Over a month later I confessed I’d played in the past week. Docs and PT folks got awfully stern awfully quick. How stupid are you? they admonished, though in nicer words. Then they sounded amazed at how strong my leg was. I never did let on just how stupid I was.

Now I play three-four times a week, between pickup ball and two rec leagues. The off days I work out at a gym, snowboard or lately teach myself how to Nordic ski. My knees feel a lot better for the exercise and keeping my weight down and off the knees.

I don’t think the docs really understand basketball in a gym. I’ll never play outside again. That is brutal on the knees. But the give of the gym floors, and fact of age 48 taking the edge off what I try to do on the court don’t add undo pressure on the knees, both now with reconstructed ACLs and repaired cartilage tears. Stupid as it is to keep playing, I can’t keep myself away, and I get great exercise that I wouldn’t otherwise.

So this doc is a rock star to me. The athletes will come and go, famous as they might be for the moment. I usually like them a lot better when their glory recedes and they become “normal” people again.

But reading Sterett’s name in The New York Times, USA Today, and hearing it on NPR, that was cool. I know that guy. And I have him to thank for every pickup and rec league game since the other doc told me I was done.

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