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Sports Health Patient Stories

At NYU Langone, our sports health specialists are leaders in providing world-class care to athletes at all levels and active individuals. Our patients share their success stories after treatment.

Manuela’s Story About Surgery for a Torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament

“Being able to dance my heart out was a huge triumph.”

—Manuela, Age 21

Manuela dances professionally for companies and troupes around New York City, so it’s no surprise that she spends hours preparing and rehearsing for performances. While jumping as high as she could on a trampoline at an amusement park, she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee.

Dr. Michael Alaia with Patient

After Dr. Michael Alaia performed a hamstring graft on her knee, Manuela returned to dancing professionally for companies and troupes around New York City.

Manuela not only had tremendous knee pain, but also feared she would never dance again.

Her primary care doctor recommended she see Dr. Michael J. Alaia at NYU Langone’s Sports Medicine Center. “I was told he was the best,” she says. “I wasn’t going to put my dance career in the hands of anyone but him.”

Dr. Alaia recommended repairing the torn knee ligament with a graft taken from Manuela’s hamstring tendons. This type of graft helped to ensure that her knee would retain the flexibility needed to perform at an elite level while providing the stability and confidence she required on a daily basis in her sport.

After her surgery, Manuela worked with physical therapist Maureen McDonough at Rusk Rehabilitation to build up her strength for dancing.

“My physical therapist was my guiding light during this very difficult time. She helped me and trained me twice a week,” Manuela says. “A year after my surgery, I was back in ballet class, dancing at least 18 hours a week.”

Michael’s Story About Sternoclavicular Joint Reconstruction Surgery

“I thought I would never play ice hockey again, so it felt like a blessing to be able to play one more year as captain.”

—Michael, Age 24

As a junior at the University of Delaware, Michael was captain of the school’s Division I ice hockey team. Midway through the season in January, during a match against Rutgers University, he sustained a career-threatening injury.

“I got hit in my chest pretty hard, and my back hit the boards,” he recalls. Upon impact, Michael dislocated his sternoclavicular (SC) joint on his right side. This joint links the collarbone to the breastbone and is the only joint connecting the arm to the body. “Doctors said that my injury is usually seen in people who have been in car accidents,” Michael says.

Although doctors told Michael that he would never play hockey again, he did some research and found a video of Dr. Laith M. Jazrawi and Dr. Young W. Kwon performing the very procedure he needed: an SC joint reconstruction. Within two weeks, he had his first appointment with Dr. Jazrawi and Dr. Kwon at NYU Langone’s Sports Medicine Center and was scheduled for outpatient surgery shortly afterward.

Dr. Jazrawi and Dr. Kwon rebuilt the ligaments that support the SC joint using Michael’s own body tissue. They then connected the collarbone to the breastbone with a tendon graft, stabilizing the SC joint.

Michael wore a sling for six weeks before starting exercises to strengthen his shoulder and arm and get his range of motion back. By June, approximately four months after surgery, Michael was pain-free. A month later, he was skating again and preparing for training camp for his senior-year season.

“I thought I would never play ice hockey again,” Michael says. “It felt like a blessing to be able to play one more year as captain.”

Jimmy’s Story About Surgery for Wrist Tendon Tear

“I went from not being able to hold a frying pan or carry a grocery bag to competing in jiu jitsu again, and winning the world championship for the blue belt division in less than five months.”

—Jimmy, Age 46

A mixed martial arts competitor, Jimmy was in the middle of a Brazilian jiu jitsu match when he felt a sharp pain in his left wrist. He taped it up and powered through rather than quitting. “I was literally fighting with one hand,” Jimmy recalls.

After a year of wearing a brace when he trained or competed, Jimmy finally asked a family friend, who is an orthopedic surgeon, to refer him to a hand and wrist specialist. His friend recommended Dr. Thomas J. Graham—a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon with expertise in caring for athletes’ hands and wrists—at NYU Langone’s Hand Center.

Dr. Graham, who is also co-director of sports health at NYU Langone, found not one but two injuries in Jimmy’s wrist: a triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC) tear inside the joint, as well as an extensor carpi ulnaris (ECU) tendon tear outside the joint. The TFCC is a disc-like structure that connects the forearm with the bones on the pinky side of the wrist to cushion and stabilize it. The ECU tendon, also on the pinky side, helps with the extension of the wrist.

“Luckily for me, Dr. Graham is a specialist in these types of injuries, and I was confident that he was the right person to go to,” Jimmy says.

In March 2019, Dr. Graham performed back-to-back procedures to address both injuries. He began by repairing the TFCC tear with a minimally invasive arthroscopic procedure. He then reconstructed the surrounding areas of the ECU tendon to stabilize and protect it—a complex procedure that Dr. Graham pioneered.

Jimmy also worked with physical therapist Natalia Ruiz, PT, DPT, OCS, at Rusk Rehabilitation, with the aim of returning to competition by July. He hit his goal, winning a tournament in New York as well as a practice tournament. Jimmy then set his sights on the Brazilian jiu jitsu world championship in August in Las Vegas—where he won the blue belt level for his age and weight division.

“I went from not being able to hold a frying pan or carry a grocery bag to competing in jiu jitsu again, and winning the world championship for the blue belt division,” Jimmy says.

“I don’t wear a brace anymore. I don’t feel pain anymore. It’s been life-changing for me.”