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Thomas’ ACL Reconstruction Surgery Patient Story

Posted on: February 13th, 2023 by Our Team

Since he was two-years old, Thomas Vitale would pick up his TV guide and search for the string of letters that resembled ‘soccer’. Eventually, finding those letters became rhythmic to him–fast enough to catch kick-off.

“Soccer was the first word I knew how to read,” said Vitale. “My dad watched all the games with me, and I’d record and rewatch them on VCR,” he recalled. 

But watching games on television wasn’t the only way they shared their enjoyment of soccer. Inspired by his father’s passion for coaching, Vitale’s enthusiasm as a spectator became fervent enough that it made him a player on the field. Center mid. 

Vitale started playing in tournaments, and naturally, his father accompanied him during his travels. He even started coaching Vitale. 

During his teenage years, Vitale transitioned from his original position as center-mid to winger. Vitale jokingly attributed the switch-up to a late onset of puberty compared to his teammates.

“I was 4 ’11 until I was 17 years old,” said Vitale. “Everyone else was 6 ’2.’’ But that didn’t slow down his soccer career. Almost 15 years later, with an added foot to his stature, Vitale now plays as a striker and attacking center midfielder. Vitale even played for the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team one summer in 2005.

After moving to L.A. in 2016, soccer became his outlet for making friends. He joined the West Hollywood soccer club and did just that. During the pandemic, soccer continued to give him social interactions, but at a distance. 

“It was one of the first social events I did because it was outdoors and there was lots of motion,” said Vitale.

The Injury: ACL tear

But his season was abruptly interrupted after a contact injury. 

“On the second play of the game, I went up for a headball, and my knee hit the goalie’s knee,” said Vitale. “I remember trying to get up to walk, and my knee felt so weird,” he continued. Though he didn’t experience immediate swelling in his knee, a classic indicator of an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, the diagnosis was later confirmed by Dr. Frank Petrigliano.

ACL tears account for nearly half of all knee injuries.

Treatment: ACL reconstruction surgery

“It’s any athlete’s worst nightmare”, said Vitale. He needed an ACL reconstruction–a surgery that 400,000 people receive annually. This would not be Vitale’s first encounter going under the knife, though.

Vitale recounted all the places he’s been operated on throughout his lifetime: hip, wrist, heart, and now ACL. Dr. Petrigliano’s foremost concern was ensuring that Vitale’s past heart complications were completely addressed prior to the ACL reconstruction. 

“Dr. Petrigliano got on a call with my heart failure doctor and cardiologist,” said Vitale. “I’ve had five stents, an aortic arch replacement, and a carotid bypass that he needed to be cognizant of,” he continued. 

Despite the many encounters with injuries and continued adversity, Vitale’s dedication to the game persevered. 

He ultimately received a patellar tendon autograft for his ACL reconstruction–a common type of graft used to recreate the torn ligament and restore anterior and rotational stability.

Recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery

He continued his recovery process through ten months of physical therapy.

“A lot of the exercises were about my body trusting itself again,” said Vitale, remembering his steady apprehension when attempting to jump during PT exercises. “My leg wouldn’t come off the ground at first,” he said, highlighting the formidable psychological barrier. 

While he continued to remain cautious, Vitale returned to the field after being cleared. He played a near full season of soccer.    

But, in Vitale’s period of misfortune, he tore his hamstring muscle a year after his ACL reconstruction. 

Dr. Petrigliano’s commitment to Vitale’s return to soccer did not stop after his ACL injury. He continued to provide care for his hamstring tear. Dr. Petrigliano ordered a motion analysis test, which assesses strength and enables a more personalized and targeted physical therapy rehabilitation plan to get him back on the pitch. 

Though he’s enjoying soccer from the sidelines, his passion for the game remains steadfast. He hopes to attend Sydney WorldPride 2023 in Australia at the end of February and compete in the football world championship hosted by the festival.

“Soccer is how I express myself,” said Vitale.“You get to go out on the field and be creative with your teammates,” he continued. While Vitale continues to recover, he passes the time with how it all began: watching the game. 

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