Dr. James Andrews is arguably the most renowned orthopedic surgeon in America.
Andrews once said, “I think I was born to be a physician.”
The 70-year-old Andrews, born in 1942 in Homer, La., has garnered much of his acclaim in the operating room by restoring arms, shoulders, elbows and knees on the bodies of some of the nation’s most prominent professional athletes.
The Tommy John surgeries he’s done, and that number is well beyond 3,000, have had a 90 percent success rate.
Of Roger Clemens’ 354 wins, 95 percent came after Andrews scoped his shoulder in 1985. After repairing John Smoltz’s elbow, the hard-throwing right-hander set a National League record for saves (55) just two years later.
Andrews’ skill in the OR has revolutionized sports medicine over the last three decades. Will Carroll, author of Baseball Prospectus, believes Andrews should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He IS in the Alabama and Louisiana Halls of Fame – he was a Southeastern Conference pole vault champion at LSU.
Andrews has been called a “pioneer in his field,” and a “surgeon to superstars.” In 2008, Andrews was tabbed “the most valuable player in sports.”
His I-did-that-surgery list includes:
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins quarterback.
Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics point guard.
Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys quarterback.
Charles Barkley, Philadelphia 76ers forward.
Bo Jackson, pro football/baseball star.
Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls superstar, called by many the greatest to ever play in the NBA.
Jack Nicklaus, the golfer who holds the PGA Tour record for major championship wins.
University of South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore.
Chelsie Summars, sophomore point guard at Bradley Central High School
To understand the paths that brought Andrews – the New York Yankees signed him to an exclusive 10-year $200 million deal in March 2011 – and Summars together, you must go back to July 25, 2012, at the A-Game Sports Complex in Brentwood, Tenn.
Summars was participating in an AAU exposure tournament – college recruiters evaluate players and that could lead to scholarship offers down the road – with her Nike-sponsored travel team. It was the championship game and win or lose, the summer-ball season would be over and Summars could look forward to assuming the role as floor general for the tradition-rich Bearettes.
The second half started. The opposing player Summars was guarding was about to catch a pass. Summars darted over to attempt a steal. She jumped. She landed with the other player falling on top of her.
“I heard it pop,” she says.
The pain was excruciating. In what would be diagnosed within hours in Chattanooga, Summars had hyperextended her left knee.
“It was so bad and the pain so intense I was just lying on the floor screaming,” the 5-foot-six-inch guard recalled. “I couldn’t even cry. I just screamed.”
Perhaps, Summars was screaming for her parents, Ginger and Donnie, because they were back in Cleveland going about their daily routines. Jason Reuter, Summars’ high school coach, was at the same tournament with his daughter Rebecca’s team, but at a different site.
A parent of a player on Summars’ team – the Nike Flight – called Ginger Summars. Ginger phoned Reuter, who didn’t answer the incoming call on his cell phone. She called Reuter’s wife, Melissa, and told her that Chelsie had been injured and for him to please go find her.
Coach Reuter rushed to the A-Game gym where Summars had been injured, located her, put her in his car and headed back to Cleveland. Reuter’s traveling party met the Summars’ about two hours later in Chattanooga at The Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics.
“They did the whole ACL test thing,” Chelsie says. “And I’m thinking how could this be happening to me. They got the test results the next day: torn ACL. I had bone contusions, which is like the fraying of bones when they hit together because my knee was hyperextended so bad.”
On Aug. 16, 2012, Dr. Chad Smalley performed surgery on Chelsie in Chattanooga.
Then, the long road back started. Months of grueling rehabilitation consumed the Bearettes star of the future – Reuter said she clearly was going to be the team’s starter at that position when the 2012-13 season started.
A target date for her return to the court for active-duty competition had been narrowed down to mid-January.
Summars received a doctor’s clearance after five months and two weeks on Jan. 14. On the day Smalley gave her permission to resume practice, and she was on the court with all the vim and vigor that had been building since summer. No contact, just drills.
“I practiced with the team and it felt great,” she said. “I was sad when practice was over because I didn’t want it to end.”
The Bearettes were well into the long season, had a 17-1 and set to play rival Cleveland a day after Summars’ first practice in almost six months. Summars was not scheduled to play against Cleveland. The day after the Bearettes beat the Blue Raiders, 56-21, Summars took part in her second practice and the following day she was scheduled to play. That’s right. Play in a high school basketball game.
Toward the end of that second practice, Summars was guarding teammate Kayla Withrow, a senior and key cog in the Bearettes’ drive to the 2013 Class AAA state tournament that starts Wednesday in Murfreesboro at Middle Tennessee State University, who drove the lane.
Summars contested the shot. She leaped. She landed.
“Kind of funny,” she says.
The worse had happened again.
“I hyperextended the same knee,” Summars said.
Her reaction was different this time. She didn’t lie on the floor and scream. She tried to walk off the court, but reality soon grabbed her in a choke-hold.
“I realized I was hurt and that it was bad,” she said in an interview prior to the Bearettes’ sub-state game against Blackman in Jim Smiddy Arena. “I took off my brace, slammed it to the floor, went into the locker room and cried.”
This was too much. Way too much for a promising young basketball player with a bright future that most certainly would include college ball. College recruiters already were showing an interest in the 15-year-old whiz from Cleveland.
Jason Reuter affectionately calls Summars a gym-rat.
“She’s in the top five or six in terms of how much time she puts into the game,” Reuter said. “When she was a freshman I used to let her into the gym at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday because she wanted to shoot for an hour before driving to Murfreesboro and play three AAU games in a day. The kid loves the game.”
Immediately after the second injury, Summars was at the least confused and bewildered and, at the worst, thunderstruck.
“I had just worked my rear end off to come back and how could this be happening to me again,” she said. “I was angry at myself. I was angry at my doctor for releasing me. I was angry with God. I didn’t know where to turn.”
Ginger and Donnie did.
“They took me straight to church (Samples Memorial Baptist) and prayed over me,” she said.
The whole family was struggling for answers.
“She couldn’t understand, we couldn’t understand,” Ginger said. “She had worked so hard. We had good doctors, good therapy. What went wrong? We couldn’t put our fingers on anything.”
After the second diagnosis came in, and it was the same as the first – a torn ACL, the Summars’ decided to get a second opinion.
“We went outside the box,” Ginger says.
She revisited the idea of getting the famed Dr. Andrews to do the second surgery. A similar attempt after the first injury went nowhere. The wait time was too long. The Summars’ couldn’t prolong it. Surgery was needed quickly.
A determined Ginger contacted The Andrews Institute in Pensacola, Fla., desperate to get her basketball-playing daughter into the best hands possible.
“I told them, ‘Hey, this is Chelsie’s life,’ ” the worried mother told Sarah Dodgins, the Andrews Institute’s appointment consultant. “I faxed all the information on Chelsie to them.”
And they waited.
Not for long.
“In 24 hours, on Jan. 25th, a Friday, we knew that Chelsie had been accepted,” Ginger said. “I felt strongly that God was helping us. He opened these doors, and he led us to Dr. Andrews. It was a great relief. No matter how we felt, we believed that this time she would be fixed. That doesn’t mean we felt doctors did anything wrong the first time.
“But, if you can have confidence in any doctor on Earth, we had confidence in Dr. Andrews.”
How did Donnie feel about the welcome news?
“God’s good,” he said.
The Summars’ drove to Pensacola on Sunday, Feb. 17 and the next day met for hours with Andrews Institute doctors.
The iconic Andrews made a good first impression.
“He’s really nice,” Chelsie said. “His bedside manner is unbelievable. He’s like an ol’ papaw.”
On Tuesday, Jan. 19, the surgery – four hours in duration – was performed.
Normally, according to what coach Reuter learned, a team of doctors begin the surgical day at about 7 a.m. There might be seven or eight surgeons working in separate operating rooms all day. Andrews floats back and forth between rooms, overseeing the on-going procedures.
Andrews, however, broke the routine on Jan. 19.
“He did all of Chelsie’s surgery,” Reuter said.
Andrews diagnosed RGIII’s injury as a complete tear of the patella graft that was used to repair his torn ACL suffered at Baylor in 2009. In January, Andrews used a patella graft from Griffin’s left knee, his good knee, to repair the most recent tear in his right knee suffered against the Baltimore Ravens.
That’s the same procedure Andrews performed on Chelsie. A healthy patella in her right knee was used to repair the twice-damaged ACL in her left knee.
A day before Chelsie’s surgery, she was in the rehab facility.
“RGIII was there working out,” she said. “I kept watching him while they were working with me.”
The therapist attending to Chelsie told her that Griffin’s surgery was done six weeks earlier and his progress has been going extremely well and his recovery was ahead of schedule.
“When he was telling me that I was thinking, ‘Well, that’s God winking at me, showing me that it’s not that bad and in six weeks I’ll be doing the same thing.’ ”
After the session, Griffin talked to Chelsie about what was ahead for her in just a matter of hours.
“He talked to me about the surgery and I told him I was scared to death,” she said. “A couple of days after my surgery I met Rajon Rondo, the point guard for the Celtics. He was really nice, too. The whole thing was a great experience for me.”
While Chelsie said Andrews is nice with a superb bedside manner, he’s also blunt with his assessment of his patients.
Andrews basically told Chelsie that a third knee injury would likely end her playing career. Then, the doctor told her that “won’t happen.”
“He’s going to give me nine months recovery time,” she said. “You hear about people coming back in six months, and that’s what I did the first time, but that’s really soon. I’m going to be on the safe side this time. The last time, I think I gambled. I said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s go. I’m ready to play.’ I pushed things.”
The Summars’ returned from Florida on Feb. 22, and that night Bradley Central played Cumberland County in the Region 3-AAA tournament quarterfinals. A year earlier, Bradley demolished Cumberland, 82-42, but star guard Caroline Smith suffered a season-ending concussion when clobbered by a flying elbow in the second quarter.
Two days later, the Bearettes lost, 44-43, to Lawrence County in the sub-state and their season ended one win shy of the state tournament.
When Chelsie entered the arena on Feb. 22, she was greeted by a large black-and-gold banner that read “Welcome Home Chelsie” and a smattering of applause that grew louder as more fans caught a glimpse of her. She got hugs, broad smiles and well-wishes from teammates, classmates, teachers and fans.
“It’s one thing to have a good game and everyone come up to you saying, ‘Good game, Chelsie.’ It’s another thing for people to come up to you and show they genuinely care about you,” she said. “That’s a nice, warm feeling.”
Just before the game began, Bearettes starters – Withrow, Whitney Donaldson, who took over at point guard in Summars’ absence, Rebecca Reuter, Brooke Copeland and Brandi Whitted – huddled near mid-court.
Chelsie was with them, back where she’s most comfortable athletically speaking.
She then walked on crutches, both knees still painful from the recent surgery, to a folding chair just behind the Bradley bench to watch her buddies put a 55-46 hurt on Blackman’s Lady Blaze.
“I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Chelsie, a 4.0 student who aspires to become a nurse anesthetist.
She has nine months to get ready for her junior season.
She also left Pensacola with a much brighter outlook about her basketball future.
“Dr. Andrews expects a full recovery,” Ginger said. “Her muscle tone is great. Her will is great. There’s no reason she won’t recover fully and come back 100 percent. That was a very big relief for us.”
Now, Chelsie’s dad, who owns his own painting business, has to get to work and put the finishing touches on his restoration project on a 1966 Chevrolet pickup truck – it has a Corvette engine – for his daughter’s 16th birthday, which is Thursday.
“It’s got 1966-67 Camaro yellow paint with an Indian-ivory top,” Donnie Summars said. “The only big thing left to do is the painting and body work. It’s about a week from going to the paint shop. With all the traveling to Florida and making sure that she’s OK, I’m a little behind.”
On Wednesday, Bradley Central (29-2) will play Science Hill (33-3) in the Class AAA state tournament quarterfinals. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. Eastern. The Bearettes’ starters will huddle before the opening tip. This time Chelsie will have company in the person of Rebecca Reuter, who will become the second team-affiliated civilian in street clothes for a couple hours in MTSU’s Murphy Center.
Reuter drew two technical fouls against Blackman on Saturday and must sit out the team’s next two games and that TSAAA ruling delivered a blow to Bradley Central’s bid for the school’s first state championship in 37 years.
If Reuter is feeling down, all she has to do is turn to Chelsie.
Chelsie Summars has been at the lowest of low places in her life.
“I come from a very religious family,” she said. “I know God has a reason for everything. I don’t know what that reason is for me, but he has one, whether that’s for someone to say, ‘I can’t give up,’ or whether it’s to show me that I shouldn’t give up on anything. If you want it, go get it.
“I’m no longer angry. I could not have the attitude I have now without my faith and the support of many people, especially my teammates.”
Chelsie Summars is a front-line testimonial for hope, for courage and perseverance.
Listen to her, Rebecca. Listen well.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)