Dick Harmon: Medical miracles in sports never cease to amaze

Published: Saturday, May 24 2014 6:25 p.m. MDT

Updated: Saturday, May 24 2014 8:53 p.m. MDT

Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton in action against San Jose State during an NCAA college football game on Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP

Modern medicine is a miracle and we see it manifested in sports almost daily.

A hundred years ago, men and women with serious knee, foot or hip injuries would be destined to lives of pain and misery. Two hundred years ago, they may have been abandoned as burdens — husbands, wives, daughters and sons unable to live productive lives.

But today we have medical miracles, and we may not fully appreciate their impact. We’ve seen Utah quarterback Travis Wilson discover a potential life-threatening situation in his brain and get help. We’ve seen USU’s Chuckie Keeton regain his gait from an ACL operation. Last fall, we watched BYU's Taysom Hill rush for more than 1,000 yards after detaching key tissue near his knee a year earlier.

University of Houston defensive back D.J. Hayden collided with a teammate during practice in 2012 and caught a knee to his sternum, rupturing his vena cava, which is a large vein that carries blood to the heart. It's an injury never associated with football and 95 percent fatal. According to the Texas Trauma Institute, he was near death when he arrived at Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute for surgery. After 23 units of blood and nearly two hours with a team of surgeons, he went home six days later.

In 1997, world-class ultra-runner Diane Van Deren had a lobectomy to correct epileptic seizures and returned to races of attrition measuring 100 miles or more, according to The New York Times.

My niece, Jessica Harmon Carter, underwent two ACL surgeries and still made All-MWC as a college soccer player. Haley Steed, a talented point guard from Syracuse who played for Jeff Judkins' BYU basetball team through 2012, had three ACL surgeries and finished her career ranked No. 2 nationally in assists. Today, many golf fans eagerly await the return of Tiger Woods from back surgery, hopefully in time for the U.S. Open.

The list of modern medical miracles is endless.

Saturday morning at a grocery store in Orem, I ran into Timpview High shop teacher and avid outdoorsman Bill Valora, who had back surgery to fuse his spine. Once in daily pain for years, he is now pain-free. Same for a friend and avid hiker Mary Whitehead, whose back issues were unbearable, but she now enjoys a full life with little pain after surgery.

It’s all hit home for me, this medical thing, and how lucky we are to have the technology to see inside our bodies, examining soft tissue, ligaments and bones, and then have talented, well-trained experts put things back together.

Personally, I’m the recipient of four corneal transplants in my life. Without them, I’d be legally blind. With contact lenses, I see 20/20 in both eyes.

Six months ago, I had so much pain in my left knee, my wife had to push me around Disney World in a wheelchair. Five months ago, I entered the San Francisco Airport to return from the Fight Hunger Bowl and sheepishly asked for an airport porter to wheel me from check-in to the terminal. Two old injuries to my knee and hip had come home to roost and I was basically done.

I’m not the kind of athlete I get paid to write about, but I love and have a passion for golf. In the early fall, I hobbled through a pro-am at the Remax Long Drive World Championships in Mesquite, Nevada, and somehow won two closest-to-the-hole prizes in 18 holes, the highlight of my 2013 golf year.

But I faced a dilemma. I ended the year barely able to walk and something needed to be done. I made a plan to have partial knee replacement surgery and total hip replacement within 80 days during the winter. My goal was to recover in time for a golf vacation in the desert by the middle of May and miss only two weeks of work for each major procedure.

I had my knee done at Timpanogos Hospital by Dr. Kirt Kimball Jan. 14 and went golfing four weeks later in Las Vegas during the WCC tournament. On March 20, I had a total hip replacement by Dr. Michael Bourne at St. Mark’s Hospital. Six weeks later, I played nine holes.

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