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He May Be On Every Sport Star’s Speed Dial, Yet This Doctor’s Focusing On Kid Athletes

Santiago Bilinkis/Flickr
Back in the 2010 Super Bowl, both starting quarterbacks were patients of Dr. James Andrews. The surgeon had rebuilt the knee of the Colts' Peyton Manning and the shoulder of the Saints' Drew Brees.

When a superstar athlete has a catastrophic injury, the first call often goes out to Dr. James Andrews. The surgeon worked on the shoulder of former Cowboy Troy Aikman, the knee of Tiger Woods and the elbow Yu Darvish, among many others. 

Among his patients was Tom Brady, the quarterback who will lead the New England Patriots into Sunday's Super Bowl in Houston. Andrews has ties to Texas -- he has family in Dallas and his name is on a sports medicine institute at Children’s Health in Plano. Lately, the 74-year-old is spending more time on preventing injuries in teen (and younger) athletes.

Interview Highlights: Dr. James Andrews…

…On what he looks for when he watches a football game and sees an injury:

“I’m just hoping that the referees saw that injury and recognize why it occurred so they can be more studious about the calls that they make, so I’m real critical about what goes on with all that during a football game. The thing that I’m noticing is that we’re paying more attention about performance problems -- “Did he cross the goal line? Did he make a first down? Did he step out of bounds?’ – having reviews of that, but they’re not paying close enough attention to safety issues.”

…On what parents need to do to keep their kids out of the operating room:

“Avoid fatigue with a young athlete. The fatigue factor is associated with year-round sports in one sport, which we call ‘specialization,’ the other fatigue factor is associated with what we call ‘professionalism.’ That means training a young kid like they’re a professional athlete and an adult. We’ve done studies with our foundation that if you participate in a youth sport with fatigue, there’s a 36 to one times – that’s a 3,600 percent increase – chance of having an injury.”

…On the professionalism of kids sports:

“I’m battling that. I have six children and nine grandkids.  A son and his wife live here in Dallas, they’ve got two young kids and they’re into every sport you’re thinking of. There’s so much social pressure to compete, stay up, to do things, to join the elite team, move up the ladder when you’re in the second grade that I don’t know how we’re going to handle this because it’s rampant, not just in Dallas, but everywhere. Believe it or not, my own children won’t listen to what I’m trying to tell them.”

…On why girls are five to seven times more likely to tear knee ligaments than boys:

“It primarily has to do with the way their pelvis is shaped which is obviously wider, the way the angles come down at the knees, which causes them to jump and land in an ACL-provocative position that tears the ACL with the knees coming in somewhat inward and rotated out at the knee.

"What we’re trying to teach them [at the Children’s Health Andrews Institute in Plano] is how to land in an athletic position. Now there are preventative programs that we’re developing and will have will take the time to put them through these exercises that can take that injury rate in girls’ ACL injuries down to a reasonable number.”

Dr. James Andrews is an orthopedic surgeon based in Florida and Alabama. He spends most of his fall weekends on the sidelines, treating the Auburn and Alabama football teams and the Washington Redskins.

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter is KERA's vice president of news. He oversees news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News has earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.