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The Surgical Innovation That Got Tua Tagovailoa Back on the Field

this is a discussion within the College Community Forum; The man who could be called the savior of Alabama’s season as much as any player or coach has spent this weekend buried in snow. Thomas Clanton does not describe himself that way, of course, but depending on your perspective, ...

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Old 01-06-2019, 11:32 PM   #1
 
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The Surgical Innovation That Got Tua Tagovailoa Back on the Field

The man who could be called the savior of Alabama’s season as much as any player or coach has spent this weekend buried in snow. Thomas Clanton does not describe himself that way, of course, but depending on your perspective, he has contributed to the Crimson Tide’s national title push as significantly as Nick Saban or Tua Tagovailoa or Quinnen Williams or Jerry Jeudy. Clanton is a foot and ankle surgeon living 1,300 miles from Tuscaloosa in Vail, Colo., where on Saturday evening he had two feet of powder in his yard. “We’ve had a good snow year this year,” Clanton says. “I’ve been skiing 12 times.”

Clanton politely scoffs at the notion that he deserves credit for where Alabama is this weekend. “I don’t need any publicity,” he says softly. “I’m 68 years old. I’ve done all the things I wanted to do in my career.” You probably don’t know much about Clanton, or Alabama team surgeons Norman Waldrop and Lyle Cain, and you probably don’t know about a company called Arthrex and a product named the Knotless Syndesmosis TightRope (hereafter referred to simply as the tightrope). But the contributions of all of the above will come to a head in Santa Clara on Monday night, when the Crimson Tide meet the Tigers in a title bout where so much hangs on an ankle held together by a surgical procedure now getting national attention. “It’s amazing,” says Alabama quarterbacks coach Dan Enos. “I don’t understand anything about it. I know this, though, it’s amazing.”

The tightrope is a relatively new innovation in the treatment of high ankle sprains, in which ligaments and tissues around the leg bones, the tibia and fibula, are loosened and become unstable. The tightrope offers an alternative to the traditional methods of treatment: rest and rehabilitation or the insertion of screws into the tibia and fibula, bonding them like one would a pair of two-by-fours with a nail. In tightrope fixation, surgeons slip a high-strength suture through small holes in the bone, fasten it with small metal buttons and then tighten it as you would a zip tie. The procedure takes about 25 minutes.

Once something of a secret weapon for Alabama, tightrope surgeries have been brought into the spotlight by the circumstances of the Crimson Tide’s 2018 season. Starting quarterback Tagovailoa and backup quarterback Jalen Hurts each suffered a high ankle sprain about six weeks apart. Within four weeks, they both returned from an injury that would normally sideline an athlete six to eight weeks, if not much longer. Hurts led a game-winning drive for the SEC championship against Georgia after Tagovailoa suffered his sprain on Dec. 1, and then Tagovailoa returned less than a month later to lead the Tide to a win over Oklahoma in the CFP semifinal on Dec. 29.


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