Tommy John surgery, more properly known as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (or UCL), is a surgical operation in which a ligament in the medial elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body (often from the forearm, hamstring, or foot of the patient). The procedure was developed by Dr. Frank Jobein 1974 for pitcher Tommy John, for whom the surgery is named.
In the summer of 2016 I was playing in the Perfect Game collegiate baseball league in Elmira, New York. I am a two way player which means I pitch and play the field. I would switch between pitching and playing the outfield at the beginning of the summer. Roughly half way through the summer, I was pitching against the Adirondack Trailblazers and threw the 6th inning; I later came back out to throw the 7th inning when, after ten pitches, I threw a slider and felt a “pop.” I knew right then that something had happened in my elbow. I came out of the game and had the trainers look at it; although I did not have the normal symptoms of tearing an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), I knew something was not right in my arm. I talked to the trainers and decided to give my arm two weeks without throwing to see how it felt after some time off. During this time I was the DH (Designated Hitter) which did not bother my arm at all. When I first tried throwing again, my arm did not feel that bad, but I would throw at about 50% and get super tired in my arm after 25 throws which was abnormal for me. The trainers performed treatment on it everyday and still didn’t think that I had the signs of Tommy John. After throwing and realizing that my arm did not feel right, I decided to just not throw the rest of the summer which allowed me to focus on hitting. When I got back to Samford I had our trainers look at it; I also tried throwing again and still could not get over 25 throws without feeling sore or tired. That is when our trainer decided that I should see a doctor at St. Andrews Hospital. I got my MRI, and the results came back within the week; I was told that I had torn my UCL. This was hard for me at the time because I knew what that meant: that I was gonna be unable to play the 2017 season. I had surgery on September 7th and have been recovering ever since.
At the beginning of my rehabilitation, I regained full range of motion in my elbow within a month which is one of the hardest thing to do in the recovery process. I am currently five months and eighteen days out of surgery, and I started throwing four months after surgery. I am on a strict throwing program to allow my arm to get used to the new ligament inside of my elbow. I do arm care five days a week to strengthen the rest of my arm so my UCL doesn’t have to take all of the pressure from the force of throwing. I am currently getting my arm in shape for this summer but will not be fully myself until 12 months after surgery which will put me right back at 100% going into the fall of my junior year. The rehabilitation of my arm has been a process, but every great story has some speed bumps, and this is one that I am going to have to overcome to get back on the Field and play the game I love.