Post 108 – RIP: Dr. Frank Jobe, developer of Tommy John Surgery

Dr. Frank Jobe transformed many baseball pitchers’ careers with his revolutionary surgery that bears his first patient’s name. In 1974, he as the team doctor for the Los Angeles Dodgers when Tommy John’s pitching elbow fell apart. The ulnar collateral ligament had ripped – this normally meant the end of the pitcher’s career. The surgery involved taking the palmaris longus tendon and weaving it in holes drilled in the bone around the joint to replace the broken ligament.

John went on to win another 164 games over 14 seasons, retiring from the game at age 46. The long list of pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery include A. J. Burnett, Chris Carpenter, Tim Hudson, Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, John Smoltz, Stephen Strasburg, Billy Wagner, David Wells, Brian Wilson and Matt Harvey.

Most of the following text comes from the New York Times:

He had performed the procedure on polio patients to improve joint use, but never on an athlete.

Frank Wilson Jobe was born in Greensboro, N.C., on July 16, 1925. His father was a postman. He joined the Army out of high school during WorldWar II and served as a medical supply sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge.

He was inspired by watching surgeons work under combat conditions.

“These guys would be operating in tents with bullets and shrapnel flying around,” Dr. Jobe told The Los Angeles Times in 1991. “There was tremendous noise from the shells going off. There was blood everywhere. These guys became my real heroes.”

After the war, Dr. Jobe graduated from La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif., and obtained a medical degree from Loma Linda University in California.

Dr. Jobe said that he himself did not coin the term Tommy John surgery, but that it had evolved over time.

“It’s the ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction while using the palmaris longus tendon,” he wryly remarked to The Orange County Register. “That’s why they call it Tommy John surgery.”

Reflecting on his contributions to sports medicine, Dr. Jobe looked beyond the medical terminology. He told Major League Baseball’s website: “Sometimes it just makes you want to cry watching those guys go on to great things. It really does.”

 

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