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Kai’s Tommy John Surgery Patient Story

Posted on: April 11th, 2023 by Our Team

The well-known adage “no pain, no gain” drives attitudes of perseverance and fosters resilience. It is faithfully embraced by many – especially athletes.

It promises reward for diligence and commitment. However, often at the cost of injury.

The Injury: UCL tear

For Kai Peterson, a baseball pitcher at Sierra College aspiring to go professional, all of this became true after sustaining a UCL injury at 17-years-old in the summer of 2019.

“I was always told pain is normal in baseball,” said Peterson. “It’s a big thing,” he continued. Having played baseball since he was five years old, this mindset was introduced early in his athletic career.

So he continued pitching through the injury, until a few months later when he heard his elbow suddenly “pop”.

“I tried driving home after that, but I couldn’t do it without wincing,” he said.

This popping sensation is generally an indication of a UCL tear, a ligament in the elbow that provides stability and supports range of motion. When torn, it leads to pain and loss of function, and can be a career-threatening injury for a baseball player.

For Peterson, it also meant losing his ability to pitch. His chances of going professional seemed to dwindle all too quickly.

Treatment: Tommy John Surgery

Still, Peterson maintained his vision after meeting Dr. Petrigliano. Though Peterson’s primary care doctor pushed for physical therapy, his MRI results reviewed by Dr. Petrigliano clearly indicated that his injury needed a more immediate intervention: a UCL reconstruction, colloquially known as Tommy John surgery.

“You could see on the MRI results that nothing was attached,” said Peterson. “But the way Dr. Petrigliano carried himself and talked about the surgery gave me a lot of confidence that I’d play again,” he added.

Tommy John surgery is currently the most common surgical intervention for UCL injuries, and its prevalence is only growing with increased participation in sports at a younger age.

Peterson received a palmaris autograft for his UCL reconstruction, a type of graft often chosen for high-level athletes who wish to return to sport.

Recovering from Tommy John Surgery

After the surgery, Peterson focused on resting and slowly rebuilding the muscles that would allow him to pitch again through physical therapy.

“I didn’t start throwing again until about six months after surgery,” said Peterson. “Then I slowly progressed until I could pitch in games–about ten months after surgery,” he continued, adding that a large focus of physical therapy was on regaining range of motion.

Despite the break from baseball, Peterson returned to his sport all the more invigorated.

“I came back to pitching more confident, knowing I put in 16 months of work [in physical therapy],” he said.

With the successful outcome of his surgery and his determination to pitch again, Peterson is poised to realize his aspirations and turn baseball into a career path.

“Dr. Petrigliano really jump started my career,” said Peterson. “Because of the surgery, I committed myself to becoming the best baseball player I could be, and now I think I have a pretty good shot of getting drafted this year,” he added.

Making his professional prospects even brighter, Peterson will be continuing his pitching career at Rice University in Houston, Texas this upcoming fall.

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