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Tommy John Surgery

In 1974, Dr. Jobe performed the first ever ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction on major league pitcher Tommy John. The unprecedented procedure was a surgical graft in which the damaged ligament in John’s medial elbow was replaced with an expendable tendon from his right forearm, the palmaris longus tendon. Prior to John’s surgery, Dr. Jobe had sourced the same tendon for a polio patient to stabilize the ankle, and several hand surgeons had employed the same tendon to replace severely damaged tendons in the fingers of their patients.

Dr. Jobe and Tommy John

At the time, Dr. Jobe disclosed to John that he did not know if this would allow him to pitch as he was unsure if the transplanted tendon could withhold the stress of the UCL and placed his chances of pitching again at a bleak 1 in 100. Nevertheless, the surgery, coupled with diligent rehabilitation therapy, proved to be a resounding success as John returned to the mound to win 164 more games in his career.

Since the original surgery, the success rate of the Tommy John procedure has climbed to as high as 90%, its duration has been halved from four to two hours, and it is an outpatient surgery. Today, its prominence is unquestionable; the common baseball fan can most likely name at least a few pitchers who have undergone Tommy John Surgery.

Dr. Jobe and Tommy John

Though it’s impossible to calculate the exact number of Tommy John procedures that have been done since 1974, the number is surely in the tens of thousands. Dr. Lewis Yocum, an orthopedic surgeon of 35 years and a senior associate at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Los Angeles, has performed thousands of surgeries personally, and Dr. James Andrews, a leading pioneer in sports medicine and top elbow specialist, reports that since the year 2000 there has been close to a seven-fold increase in pitchers at lower levels seeking this type of reconstruction surgery.

At the professional level, in the 2002 and 2003 seasons, 75 of the almost 700 pitchers who appeared in the majors were Tommy John surgery successes. In 2012, it has been reported that 14% of major league pitchers underwent the Tommy John procedure.

In addition to Tommy John, major leaguers whose pitching careers have been extended thanks to Dr. Jobe’s innovative procedure include Stephen Strasburg, Johan Santana, Chris Carpenter, John Smoltz, Kerry Wood, Tom Candiotti, Brian Wilson, Brett Anderson, David Wells, Eric Gagne, Kenny Rogers, Jason Isringhausen, Josh Johnson, and many more.

 

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