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Pitcher stronger after surgeryBy Austin Corder
Ligament-replacement surgery is frightening for any athlete, but it can be devastating for one still in high school.
In February 2008, Pampa pitcher Blake Sieck had Tommy John surgery to replace a torn ligament in his right, pitching, elbow.
While many athletes, particularly baseball players, have undergone Tommy John surgery, or ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, most of them are in the professional or collegiate ranks.
Tommy John surgery is a procedure in which a ligament in the elbow is replaced with a tendon from another part of the body, often from the forearm, hamstring, knee or foot.
The surgery is named after Tommy John, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who was the first professional athlete to successfully undergo the operation in 1974.
The dedication it takes to come back from such a procedure is long and arduous, and it takes 12 to 18 months for a full recovery.
While most Tommy John patients hurt their arms in baseball, it was basketball that forced Sieck to have the operation.
"The doctors told me that baseball created a partial tear, and they thought I could just rehab it and it would get better," Sieck said.
"Then I hit my arm on the backboard when I was going up for a block in basketball, and that just finished it off and tore the ligament."
The idea of going under the knife was nerve-racking for Sieck, but the knowledge that most players come back and throw harder helped ease anxiety.
"I was definitely nervous and beat up about it because I had to miss the whole year and all the rehab I knew I had in front of me," Sieck said. "Then again, I knew that I should come back stronger, and it was the best thing to do."
After his surgery in Fort Worth, the real test began as he attempted to regain the lost strength in his arm.
"At first I was scared about coming back, and the first pitch I threw to my dad was the hardest thing I'd ever done, but now it's back to normal and everything feels solid," Sieck said.
"I did a lot of band work at first to get some strength back, then I started to play catch. I just started with 20 throws from 15 feet and gradually worked my way back. Now my elbow feels solid and never gives me any problems at all."
Just 12 months after the surgery, Sieck was back on the field for the Harvesters and has led the team on the mound as the club's ace and also at the plate.
"He's shown no effects from the surgery and he's back to full speed. I would think if anything, his arm is stronger and he recovers faster," Pampa coach Clay Wilson said.
"He's really pitched well, he's played well in the field for us, and his offensive numbers are fantastic, so overall I think he's in pretty good physical shape."
Editor's note: Beating the Odds is a series published in the Amarillo Globe-News from May 10-24 that tells the stories of all kinds of students who are graduating despite challenges they've faced. It is part of Celebrate Education, a program designed to bring awareness to the need of educational attainment in the Texas Panhandle.
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