A Simple, But Not Easy Way to Change the World

What do you think of when you hear “Tommy John?”


As a medical professional, you probably can recite from memory that what is commonly known as Tommy John surgery is when a torn ulnar collateral ligament is replaced by a ligament from the other arm or sometimes a leg. Did you also know that Tommy John is a real guy, living in Indiana? He was a pitcher in the major leagues and had a very long career. So long that he can claim he pitched to Mickey Mantle AND to Mark McGwire!


Tommy tore his ulnar collateral ligament and was told he would never pitch again. He sought out alternative opinions and eventually found someone willing to do an experimental procedure, which is what is now known as Tommy John surgery. Tommy came back from that surgery and was able to pitch for many more years. When Tommy was finally cut from the Yankees at age 45, everyone assumed he would retire. He demanded to be able to show up at Spring Training as a walk-on. He was told he was too old, but they let him show up anyway. He made the team.


Tommy John was the perfect storm for medical advancement. His entire livelihood relied on his ability to perform, as is the case with most professional athletes. Anytime you have a patient in peak physical condition and a willingness (and need) to achieve the impossible, you have the required ingredients for a major breakthrough.  What was once considered a long shot, and experimental procedure is now a “routine” (there is no such thing) procedure. What was once considered a miraculous result is now simply the expected result.


Think about Tommy John when you hear Dr. Ethan Kellum talk about his previous experience in sports medicine and the treatments that are being discussed and used, you can almost guarantee that these “experimental” treatments will soon become the standard treatments.


“I can’t believe they did it this way” Dr. Kellum remarked when he was not yet a doctor but was studying medical journals from the late 1800s and early 1900s. He soon realized that people in the future will say the same thing about the current accepted medical practices. This is not a new worry, and it has even been represented in the mainstream many years ago in Star Trek IV when Dr. Bones McCoy travels back in time and is shocked that anyone still must go through Kidney Dialysis.


When asked about coming up with treatment plans, Dr. Kellum simply says “It’s about the next step, what will we do in five years?”   You can not be so focused on one option that you ignore everything else. “If you are a hammer, everything is nail.” It is easy to see the need for surgery for everything when you are a surgeon. But there is often a better way. In sports medicine now we are seeing that the athlete is prepared to overcome injury because they are often in great shape. Dr. Kellum likes to take that approach to his patients. You can not over come an injury without looking at your total health.


When a person starts working out at a gym and they lose weight, usually about 80% of their weight loss is due to a nutritional change and 20% is due to lifting weights. Pain management is remarkably similar. About 20% of the recovery is due to the procedure (whatever procedure is used) and the rest is due to the lifestyle of the patient. When you see professional athletes recover from a procedure very quickly due to their diet and exercise regimen, you soon realize that your own patients’ recovery will become quicker if you can change their diet and exercise regimen. You also start to see that when you make these changes, surgery is not always necessary. We currently see this trend in sports medicine today, why not try to get ahead of the curve and start working on this treatment today?


Dr. Kellum is a native of Henderson, Tennessee and attended Jackson Christian School and Freed-Hardeman University. He earned a medical degree from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine in Memphis. After a residency in orthopedic surgery at the Medical College of Georgia, he then completed a surgical fellowship in sports medicine, shoulder, and advance arthroscopy at the renowned New England Baptist Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. During his fellowship he served as assistant team physician for the NBA’s Boston Celtics, and for both Harvard and Tufts’ University athletics. Dr. Kellum is a member of the prestigious Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. Dr. Kellum has actively been involved in orthopedic surgery research throughout his medical career. He also has authored and co-authored several peer reviewed orthopedic surgery articles and book chapters. For more information, go to  https://nashvilleregenerative.com/

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