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Just What Doctor Ordered : Modern Medicine Has Come a Long Way in Helping Athletes Recover


Ask Jim Karsatos, former Sunny Hills High standout who went on to play college and pro football, how far medical technology has come in the last decade and he'll point to the scars on his left and right knees.

On Karsatos' right knee is a 14-inch scar from an operation that repaired the medial collateral ligament he damaged during the 1981 Orange County high school all-star game. While playing for the Miami Dolphins in 1987, Karsatos suffered a more severe knee injury, a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

The scar? Two inches long.

Now an investment manager for John Hancock in Columbus, Ohio, Karsatos marvels at players who recover from arthroscopic knee surgery in three weeks and he wonders what kind of college and pro career he might have had if he had had access to present-day medicine in his day.

It took Karsatos two years to recover from his first injury and he never came back after his second injury. While reflecting on his injury-shortened career, Karsatos, 31, acknowledges he never did fully recover from his first scar.

"The strength doesn't get up to what it was and you can feel it getting looser," he said. "Your confidence just isn't the same. I had to really gear up my arm more than I used to once I got hurt.

"I used to roll out in high school. But in college, I stayed in the pocket strong instead of trying to get out and run. I knew I couldn't outrun anybody in the Big 10, so I didn't even try."

His surgery caused him to lose his freshman year of eligibility and to be a redshirt another year, but Karsatos still started for 2 1/2 seasons and led the Buckeyes to a share of the Big 10 championship as a senior. He also finished his career fourth all-time on the Buckeye passing yardage list with 5,089 yards.

However, Karsatos believes he might have been higher on that list had today's technology been available to his surgeon, Dr. Lewis Yocum, 13 years ago.

"The physical part was done in a year, but the mental part was also a year," said Karsatos, who is also working for the Ohio State radio network. "You look back and you say that there's fate here and fate there. And then you say, 'Move on.' "

But while he has moved on, Karsatos said whenever he and other NFL alumni get together, the first topic of conversation is typically the same.

"All they seem to do is talk about their injuries," he said.

Tony Gonzalez, a Times All-County football and basketball player at Huntington Beach who is a freshman at Cal, also suffered a knee injury in the Orange County all-star football game. His injury wasn't serious and did not require surgery. In fact, Gonzalez recovered in less than two months and played in Cal's second game this season. Last week against UCLA, he caught his first touchdown pass in college.

Cal trainer Mike Chaplin, who helped treat Gonzalez, said severe knee injuries aren't what they used to be.

"The treatment of anterior cruciate ligaments has changed dramatically over the years," he said. "We know a lot more now about the workings of the knee. Back in the 1960s, they didn't even fix anterior cruciate injuries, because they didn't have the technology.

"Bernard King (former NBA All-Star) was one of the first players who came back from ACL surgery, but now there are people, like Mark Price and Tim Hardaway (NBA Dream Team II point guards), who come back in less than a year. Just by looking at that, you can say that things have improved."

And then there are knees, such as Gonzalez's, that heal naturally and dramatically, no matter what the era.

"I didn't watch much film of him in high school," Chaplin said, "But if he gets any better than this, he may only be here a couple years."

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