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Back in the Game

April 23, 2001
A Real-Life Recovery Story By Tom Keppeler, Knee1 Staff

Ryan Barnicle, a 16-year-old three-sport athlete from Cotuit, Mass., harbored dreams of baseball stardom each night as he slept. When playing baseball for Barnstable High School in nearby Hyannis, he was a "utility player"—although stationed at catcher, he could pitch, play outfield, and hit well. As a result, playing for a major-league team never seemed like a distant goal.

Despite hours of batting practice, years of hard work, countless days spent dreaming of a big crowd in a bigger stadium cheering for him, it was one thing—a small patch of wet turf—that sent Barnicle and his dreams tumbling to the ground.

It was early in the season—about this time last year, in fact—that Barnicle was playing in an away game against another local high school. While at the plate, he hit a "frozen rope" to centerfield and began running full bore. He rounded first base, thinking his hit was a double. Before he knew it, however, he hit some wet ground, causing his outside leg to slide out underneath him. He tumbled to the ground, rolling over five or six times because he was running so fast. "As I landed, I pretty much crushed my knee," Barnicle says. "It wasn't very pretty."

At the time, Barnicle says, he was in a great deal of pain. However, he endured the unknown injury and squatted as the team's catcher for the remaining five innings in the game. After the game, the pain dulled. At times, it would creep up on him, nagging him after heavy activity while he played through the golf and fall baseball season. The bothersome pain refused to go away, and Barnicle eventually sought the consult of a physician on Cape Cod last September. The doctor told him to be patient with the injury, and, with luck, it would heal itself. Four months and no luck later, Barnicle sought the help of Dr. Anthony Schepsis of the Boston Medical Center, who diagnosed him with a small tear in one of his menisci, the half-moon shaped cartilage pads that serve as shock absorbers in the knee. It would require surgery, Schepsis told Barnicle, but the procedure would be minor. Schepsis planned to cut the small tear out of the meniscus to prevent it from tearing any further. "At the beginning, I was kind of nervous, because I have never met this man, and he's going to cut into my knee," Barnicle says. "But as soon as he explained everything they were going to do, I said, 'Okay, let's get it done, and let's go home." He scheduled the surgery for December 28, hoping to make a full recovery by baseball season.

However, during the arthroscopic surgery, Schepsis was surprised to find the tear was much larger than he anticipated. Had Ryan's surgery been just a few months earlier, Schepsis' options would have been few: either repair the torn meniscus with absorbable "arrows"—picture biodegradable pins that hold the tear together, albeit loosely; or cutting open Ryan's entire knee to implant stronger, non-absorbable sutures (stitches), which have been proven to make a stronger hold. However, Schepsis was able to use Smith & Nephew's new FasT-Fix device, which enabled him to suture the tear arthroscopically. Thus, Barnicle received a tighter fixation of his meniscal tear without the complications of an open-knee surgery.

Ryan endured four harsh months of physical therapy to regain strength and stability in his knee, but reports now that he has nearly full range of motion and much less pain than before the surgery. In fact, just as planned, Barnicle is playing again with the Red Raiders' baseball team. He hopes to help the team to a better-than-.500 record this season. In addition, he says, the dreams of major league success have returned, thanks to the watchful care of Dr. Schepsis. "I don’t care which team I play for, as long as I make it some day," Barnicle says. "It's a lot to shoot for, but I'll make it… someday."

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