The man on the cutting edge with athletes: 10 questions with Dr. James Andrews

1/21/2014

If a famous athlete gets hurt these days, three words are likely to follow: Dr. James Andrews. The 71-year-old orthopedic surgeon is sports' ultimate fixer. His list of A-list patients is so long, it's easier to name famous jocks that haven't gone under his famed scalpel. He's the team physician for Alabama, Auburn and the Redskins, and just about every pro trainer has him on speed dial if they need a consultation. But it's not just the likes of Adrian Peterson, Bo Jackson, Jack Nicklaus and Drew Brees who've hobbled into his clinics in Birmingham and Pensacola. Andrews performs up to 50 surgeries a week on high-schoolers, housewives and wounded weekend warriors. He has written a book, “Any Given Monday,” about preventing and treating injuries in youth sports. We caught up with him between surgery shifts and got in 10 questions about sports, medicine and how he became the orthopedic surgeon to the stars. Can you explain to the layman why almost everybody who's anybody goes to see Dr. James Andrews? To be perfectly honest with you I don't know the answer to that question. But I've always been one who had a lot of self-criticism in trying to do the best I could do, and treated everybody as special regardless of what their age or ambitions were. Probably the thing that helped me most is I started off taking care of high school kids and small colleges, and those kids grew into big college and pros. They've always come back to me and always given me a lot of referrals. Two things are essential for anybody in sports medicine. That's communication and availability. Just like right now, I'm doing two or three things at the same time including interviewing with you. That's been my life, man. Is it hard to maintain an air of neutrality in the Iron Bowl, or were you going nuts like everybody else when Chris Davis was returning that field-goal attempt? I felt good for Auburn, but it's not my favorite ballgame. It's not a lot of fun for me. I'm just hoping nobody gets hurt. I hope it's rainy and cold and I can put on a toboggan or hood and walk sideline to sideline and nobody will know who I am. I've always got doctors who work with me on both sidelines, so I try to be as impartial as I can and just get through the ballgame. Given your workload, how do you unwind? Or do you even feel the need? I take a week off at the beginning of football season, the first week of August, then usually a week off between Christmas and New Years. This year I took all my kids down to Key West for a week, but all I did was answer the phone since football season was wrapping up. People were calling and people were still getting hurt. I really spent most of my time talking to people and figuring out what to do with them when I got back to work. It's been a battle, this football season. For seven months, seven days a week. Two games on Saturday and the Washington Redskins game, wherever they play on Sunday. So there's no time off. But that's my hobby and I love football, so I don't fuss about it. Critics say the NFL and NCAA are going too far in their attempts to make the game safer. What do you think of all the rule changes? I think it's admirable and I hope it helps, but football is still football. There are risk factors you are not going to control. This year, we had a number of serious knee injuries because instead of hitting high, players were hitting low. At least that's what it looked like. I don't know if it was true or not, but if you start hitting low you're going to have career-ending type injuries to the knee. Of course, injuries to the brain are a lot more complex than injuries to the knee. But you don't want either one where your career is concerned. I think what we really have to do is get rule changes with good refereeing in junior high and high schools. That's where head injuries really begin. We need to teach these young kids and prevent injuries at a young age. And we need to have just as good of medical care for young kids as we do pro athletes. As a matter of fact, we need better medical care because they're more vulnerable. We need to mandate that all high schools have athletic trainers. They give emergency first aid and they recognize injuries before they become serious. To read the complete article, please click the following link:  http://foxs.pt/1bV06QF  

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