PROVO — Moroni Laulu-Pututau went under the knife to repair a season-ending knee injury Thursday, but the real news is he is the recipient of a new technique that could launch a comeback 40 percent faster than normal.
That would mean the BYU tight end, who was the team’s leading receiver before blowing out his knee in a loss at Washington two weeks ago, could be available for spring football in March.
The operation was not only cutting-edge, but Laulu-Pututau was the first patient to get it outside of the creator’s operating room in Alabama.
“I am so blessed,” said Laulu-Pututau the day before his surgery. “I’m so thankful to God. I am so grateful to have a medical staff that would even consider it and I’m thankful to have so many talented doctors who will be there to help me get the help I need. I know I’m in good hands and I’m excited to get done with it.”
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Laulu-Pututau had 14 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown in four games when he was injured Sept. 29 in Seattle on BYU’s first possession. He was a key receiver and blocker in the Cougars’ jet sweep run package that helped BYU upset then-No. 6 Wisconsin. Before the 2017 season began, the junior from Hyrum suffered a foot injury and missed the entire season.
Laulu-Pututau said the injury occurred on the third play of the game when a teammate ran over his leg. He immediately knew something felt very wrong and dropped to the ground.
“A lot of things went through my mind. I wondered what had happened, how serious it would be. I hoped it wouldn’t be that serious. I got to thinking to myself, “Not again, not this. How could this happen to me again?”
Thursday's surgery could spur a remarkable fast track to return to the field.
“This is exciting stuff,” said Dr. Kirt Kimball, part of the surgical team that participated in the new surgical approach.
The groundbreaking method was developed by world-renowned sports medicine surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who works on the athletic medicine staffs of both the University of Alabama and Auburn University.
A few of Andrews’ patients include Bo Jackson, Troy Aikman and Allen Iverson.
Last March, Andrews repaired the torn ACLs (anterior cruciate ligament) of Auburn receivers Will Hastings and Eli Stove. One was cleared to play football in five and a half months, the other in six months. Recovery time from ACL surgery is usually nine months or longer.
At the Div. I athlete level, doctors usually graft tissue from the existing patellar tendon to reconstruct the ACL. With Hastings and Stove, Andrews wrapped the tendon in a membrane derived from the amnion-chorion, which is the fetal sac. He then took stem cells from the pelvic bone with a needle and prepared it. After reconstructing the ACL, and wrapping the membrane around the tendon portion that is in the joint, Andrews injected those stem cells directly into the membrane sleeve around the graft.
“In effect, he placed a bath of stem cells around the tendon that is going to be the new ACL, ” Kimball said.
“Dr. Andrews has done about eight of these. He went public on Sept. 20 with these two athletes at Auburn and he describes the result as like putting fertilizer on the graft. It heals faster.”
Revere Health, which employs Kimball, recently hired Dr. Kevin Christensen, who just finished a fellowship with Andrews in Florida, and has participated in the groundbreaking procedure.
BYU athletes can choose who operates on them and where the procedures are performed. The BYU medical staff presented Laulu-Pututau with an option to undergo this procedure in Provo and he decided to be among the first to pioneer this kind of operation.
On Thursday, Kimball, who is BYU’s orthopedic surgeon, Christensen and Dr. Jeffrey Wallentine comprised a trio of surgeons using the new approach on Laulu-Pututau.
If successful, Laulu-Pututau could potentially be cleared for football workouts in February and take part in spring camp. Ordinarily, it would be a late spring or summer recovery window.
Pututau’s operation is expected to kick off a new medical partnership hoping to be at the cutting edge of sports medicine called the Center for Excellence in Sports Medicine with BYU and Intermountain Health Care. IHC has entered a multi-year contract with BYU Sports for marketing and service.
The goal is to bring state of the art sports medicine to BYU, including primary care, specialty care, surgical care, a concussion program, research, nutrition and physical therapy.
As medical director for the center, Kimball's challenge is to bring all those sciences together. IHC and BYU hope it will become a significant factor in increasing sports medicine excellence in the state, and that other schools will join in partnerships.10 comments on this story
On Wednesday, when asked about BYU’s offensive schemes and personnel changes as the Cougars prepare to host Hawaii (6-1) Saturday, pass game coordinator Aaron Roderick said, “When we had Moroni, we were a different offense than when we are without him.”
“It is what it is,” Laulu-Pututau said, looking forward. “I can’t dwell on why it happened, I can only go forward. It has been rough because emotionally the last two years flashed in my mind when it happened. I thought of all the work I’d done to get back, how hard the team has worked. I need to make the best of it."