Matthew Lee, 22, of Oak Park, discovered his passion for playing lacrosse at a young age. Although he also excelled in baseball and tennis, it was the ‘brotherhood’ of lacrosse that drew him into the sport. Playing lacrosse gave him a supportive foundation throughout his years at Oak Park River Forest High School and when it was time to make college decisions, his love of lacrosse played a big part. He enrolled at Beloit College in Beloit, WI and joined its NCAA Division III lacrosse team.
College life and lacrosse were going very well for Matthew until his spring break trip to Washington, DC his sophomore year. This was a special time during which the team had an opportunity to scrimmage against the U.S. Naval Academy. While attempting a shot on goal, Matthew fell on his hand and wrist. He immediately felt a ‘pop’ followed by intense pain and swelling. To his disappointment, the team’s trainer had to sideline him for the rest of the trip.
After returning to Wisconsin, he was evaluated at a local hospital where he was diagnosed with a fracture to the scaphoid bone, one of several small bones in the wrist. He was casted for six months and then underwent occupational therapy. It was tough time, but he looked forward to returning to lacrosse.
A Second Opinion
Unfortunately, after the cast was removed, he still felt pain and an unusual grinding sensation in his wrist. Matthew felt something was still wrong and his mother insisted they get a second opinion. After researching several specialists, they chose Dr. John Fernandez, a hand, wrist, and elbow specialist at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush. They liked Dr. Fernandez’s reputation for treating high level athletes and for performing particularly challenging cases. Coincidentally, Dr. Fernandez also has three sons who play lacrosse and is a big fan of the sport himself. He immediately connected with Matthew and understood his frustration.
Dr. Fernandez carefully assessed Matthew’s wrist. He used simple measures like examining the normal side which no one had done previously. He also used high-tech techniques including examining his wrist under a live video xray to see what the wrist was doing in real time and under stress. This led to the discovery that Matthew hadn’t suffered a wrist fracture at all. Instead, he had torn a very important ligament in the wrist.
This ligament is a crucial connection between the carpal bones in the wrist. Without it healing, Matthew would likely have continued problems, including long term arthritis and disability. This would make it hard for him to use his hand for simple tasks, much less playing lacrosse. He explained that Matthew needed surgery to repair the torn ligament and restore function. This was devastating news because it meant more time away from lacrosse.
“Even though it was tough to hear that the casting period was a waste of time, Dr. Fernandez and his amazing physician assistants were so helpful throughout the whole process.”
Dr. Fernandez recommended a technically demanding and unusual surgery to reconstruct the scapholunate ligament of the wrist. This required transplanting one of Matthew’s tendons to replace the ligament he had lost. Stainless steel pins would be used across the bones to maintain alignment during the recovery process. This cutting-edge technique was designed for higher demand individuals with and a better success rate.
Complicating matters further, before his surgery Matthew fell and injured his other wrist. This time he truly did fracture his scaphoid bone. But, instead of casting it, Dr. Fernandez suggested a method of repairing the bone internally with a screw. This would then act as an internal cast and decrease healing time.
Now, the stakes were higher. Matthew required a staged surgical approach so that he could use one of wrists during the healing process, but not compromise the outcome. Several surgeries and nine months of recovery were needed to make this work. Dr. Fernandez and Matthew confidently agreed to take this plan head on. As hoped, the surgeries were successful and Matthew’s recovery was smooth. Finally, eighteen months after his initial injury, Matthew was functioning well and pain free. He finally scored his ‘goal’ — with Dr. Fernandez making the assist.
Back on the Field
After a long time away from lacrosse, Matthew was able to join his teammates back on the field during his senior year. “I was able to score over 25 points this season and could not be more thankful to Dr. Fernandez, his PAs, and MOR for making my senior year a great one to remember,” he says.
During this process, Matthew received a unique look into the practice of orthopedics and expressed an interest in a career as a physician assistant. Dr. Fernandez admits that he has seen this happen before and encouraged Matthew to follow his passion. He hopes that one day Matthew will be able to pay it forward by performing a surgical assist of his own to help someone else score their goals.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. John Fernandez, call 877-MD-BONES.