Meet the North Texas Maestro of Tommy John Surgery

Let’s say Jacob deGrom’s $185 million right elbow was recently examined by Keith Meister, one of the Texas Rangers’ team doctors who is tasked with treating such joints. Meister, in his 20th season with the franchise, has declined to discuss specific patients, citing HIPAA regulations.

When deGrom went on the injured reserve list last weekend with elbow inflammation, the franchise could be sure its ace pitcher was on the safe side — perhaps the best in baseball. , one of the most popular orthopedic surgeons in professional sports, especially when it comes to elbow reconstruction, better known in baseball as Tommy John surgery. Meister reviewed deGrom’s injury history, including Tommy John surgery in 2010, which Meister did not perform, before the team signed him as a free agent last December. Ella Trash is expected to keep him off the field for long. set a new record for postoperative recovery time in the major leagues.

“Most people with elbow injuries in any sport [Meister’s] Jamie Reed, senior director of medical operations for the Rangers, said: “He’s probably considered one of the top one or two elbow surgeons in the country.”

At age 61, Meister was fit and healthy and was able to impress sports fans with his readings of famous patients. On the walls of his sports medicine clinic in Arlington, you’ll find everything from his three-time Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, to Tampa Bay Rays rising star pitcher Tyler Glasnow, and former Rangers outfielder Shin Suchu. When I visited the clinic this spring to interview Meister, injured Rays pitcher Jeffrey Springs walked into the lobby with a giant contraption in his left arm.

Meister, a New Yorker whose grandfather, Jacob Currin, was also a surgeon, said: “But I had no idea how it would turn out. There’s no way I could imagine the commitment and time. I don’t know.” no idea! “

Reid joined the Rangers in October 2002 as an athletic trainer and convinced Meister, then a member of the University of Florida School of Sports Medicine, to move to Texas, calling the surgeon “the best thing that ever happened to Texas Rangers medicine.” ’ he called. Most of Meister’s patients are baseball players, mostly pitchers (Meister prefers to call them “pitters”). One of his recent patients from another sport was San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy.

After three seasons as a team doctor for the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League, Meister’s increased workload forced him to stay with one team. He played in every home ball game during his first 17 seasons with the Rangers, but never stayed on the starting pitch.The most important thing for Meister was to get as many players, coaches and frontline players as possible in advance. was to visit his office executives. “This business is about relationships,” Meister said. “You have to build presence and relationships and then build a certain level of confidence. If so, you will start to see the rock move slightly.

“Sports medicine in baseball is a very small niche,” he added. “There are very few people we can trust to do what we do.”

Meister said he could not count all the Tommy John surgeries he had performed. There was the first encounter of Meister calls Andrews his second father, and his admiration extends far beyond the operating room. “I learned a lot from him about how to deal with people,” Meister said. “He was very down to earth. When he came into the room, I could tell that his focus was on you.”

The quality that Meister reminded me of my grandfather. “Any patient who ever came to his clinic,” Meister recalled of his grandfather. He often said to me, “

Tommy John surgery is named after the first major league pitcher to undergo surgery in 1974. After he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow, surgeon Frank his Jobe removed the damaged tissue and replaced it with part of his tendon. This will serve as his new UCL. John was 31 when he got injured, but the surgery extended his career for another 15 years. Nearly 50 years later, according to Meister, his version of elbow reconstruction has evolved beyond ligament replacement into his four types of augmentation procedures, primarily for the sport the athlete plays and within that sport. position in, and most athletes’ years. Expect to continue playing at the patient’s age. “I came up with a procedure called hybrid surgery, which puts tendon grafts and braces together, and I started doing it about five years ago,” he says. “That’s kind of how it evolved into the current major procedure.”

Tommy John operations typically take just under an hour for Meister to complete, with a 90% success rate. Some patients have a success rate of about 55% and he needs a second procedure. Current Rangers pitcher Cole Lagans falls into the latter category. Ragans was a first-round draft pick for Texas out of high school in 2016. He required Tommy John surgery in his March 2018 and then had surgery again in May 2019.

With the pandemic wiping out the minor league season, the Lagans missed 2020 and returned to pitching in 2021, spending two seasons as a starter primarily in the minors before being transferred to the Rangers’ bullpen this spring. has a routine,” said Ragans.

Elbow surgery techniques are likely to continue to evolve with changes in how baseball is played and the stress put on the pitching arm by different types of stress pitchers. It’s good for business, Meister said, but it can also be nasty. “The average muzzle velocity of the fastball starts at 89 [miles per hour] In 1999 we had over 95,” he said. “Every pitcher on the LSU pitching staff [college baseball’s top-ranked team this season] 95 to 100. The stresses and loads are more than your body can handle, and you are doing it at a much younger age when your body is less developed. Well, everyone? slow down. Before teaching you how to throw, let’s teach you how to throw. It was kind of a setback. “

For the patient, the Meister works in a bubble. He has stopped following sports on television and in the media, avoiding Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media his platforms. Even if the fans yelled for the injured star to return to the field, Meister would not listen. ‘ he said. “Keep the noise down.”

This allows Meisters to continue to focus on patient relationships. His mobile phone stores over 4,000 of his contacts. “And we can tell each story,” he said. “Whether it’s an agent, a trainer or a former athlete.”

There is another archaic aspect to Meister’s work. “Since day one of my practice, whenever I’ve received a thank you note or card from a patient, I’ve saved it,” he said. “All the notes. I have them all at home. I have a few boxes of them.”

Meister’s Arlington Clinic has grown from a 1,100-square-foot office with two other employees to a 22,000-square-foot complex that opened in 2015, which he shares with nine partners. “I’m probably enjoying it now more than ever,” he said. You don’t have to do this anymore. I do it because I enjoy my work. “

He also understands how rare the opportunity to treat world-class athletes is. [doctors] People who left the game, that inner circle, they sort of disappeared,” Meister said. So I talk to these people every day, every week, and that’s a big part of what you lose when you’re away from it.”

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