Bethlehem, PA (03/22/2017) – It’s officially Spring, that time when a young man’s fancy turns to baseball.
Alec Huertas of Bethlehem, a junior at Freedom High School is doing just that. A gifted fastball pitcher, Huertas is facing the season in top form thanks to advice and treatment he received during football season from an athletic trainer at St. Luke’s University Health Network.
The trouble began last September, when Huertas played the best football game of his Freedom High School career. The junior wide receiver caught three touchdown passes and helped quarterback Joe Young set a school record for all-time passing yards.
Only a handful of people knew that, just 24 hours earlier, Huertas’ junior football season was in jeopardy of coming to an abrupt early end.
After complaining about painful swelling in his knee, one of the region’s orthopedic groups ordered an MRI and gave Alec and his parents, Rene and Angela, some of the worst news they could hear. “We went there on a Thursday and they said they wanted to do surgery on Monday,” dad Rene said. “They said he had a torn meniscus and needed surgery. He’d have to miss the rest of the season. We really didn’t know what to do at that point.”
Alec is now ready to pitch for Freedom’s baseball team, showcasing a 90 mph fastball that is drawing attention from college scouts.
But St. Luke’s athletic trainer Jeff Timlin knew the perfect next steps. Timlin treated Alec and felt a second opinion by a St. Luke’s orthopedic surgeon was warranted. “I felt it was an injury that needed further evaluation, but not something that had to pull him out of play,” Timlin recalled. “I was upset because they wanted to perform an operation on a kid who was functioning at a very high level. Taking him out of the action for the rest of the season didn’t match up with what we were seeing on the field.”
After consulting with Joe Stofanak, St. Luke’s Program Manager for Sports Medicine Relations, they arranged a second opinion with Nicholas J. Avallone, MD, Section Chief of Orthopedics at St. Luke’s Warren Campus, who had an entirely different – and correct – assessment of the MRI and Alec’s prognosis.
“The mantra here at St. Luke’s Orthopedic Care is to do the least invasive treatment first,” said Dr. Avallone, who has worked with the New England Patriots, New York Jets, and even tennis players at the U.S. Open. He became interested in orthopedics while playing defensive back at Princeton University. “We try to employ conservative measures first and look out for the best interest of our patient with the standard of care.”
After examining the MRI and Alec, Dr. Avallone discussed both conservative and aggressive treatment, but recommended the conservative approach, keeping faith with St. Luke’s philosophy of surgery as the last option.
“When I read the MRI myself and examined where the pain was located, it wasn’t coming from where there was just a slight tear in the meniscus, but from where there was a bone bruise,” Dr. Avallone said. “To take away the rest of the year in his football experience wasn’t the right thing in this scenario and wasn’t in Alec’s best interest.”
After going through some rehabilitation exercises and other treatments with Timlin, Alec played that evening and caught three touchdown passes. “I was really happy I could just go out and play and let it go and be reassured that nothing was going to hurt it anymore,” Alec said of his knee.
Alec’s parents expressed their relief, “We couldn’t be happier with the end result,” said Angela. “Alec is such a talented athlete and we didn’t want his career to be negatively impacted. Not having to have the surgery was a big load off our minds and we are so grateful to everyone at St. Luke’s. We are now looking forward to a great baseball season.”
Timlin was equally pleased with the result, as Huertas helped Freedom make the District 11 playoffs. Timlin worked with him on a variety of rehabilitation exercises including heel slides and modified squats to strengthen and condition the surrounding muscles.
About St. Luke’s
Founded in 1872, St. Luke’s University Health Network (SLUHN) is a non-profit, regional, fully integrated and nationally recognized network providing services at seven hospitals and more than 270 outpatient sites. The network’s service area includes Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Schuylkill, Bucks, Montgomery, Berks and Monroe counties in Pennsylvania and Warren County in New Jersey. Dedicated to advancing health education, St. Luke’s operates the nation’s oldest School of Nursing and 22 graduate medical educational programs and is considered a major teaching hospital, the only one in the region. In partnership with Temple University, St. Luke’s created the region’s first Medical School. Repeatedly, including 2017, St. Luke’s has earned Truven’s 100 Top Major Teaching Hospital designation as well as 50 Top Cardiovascular program in addition to other honors for clinical excellence. St. Luke’s is a multi-year recipient of the Most Wired award recognizing the breadth of St. Luke’s information technology applications such as electronic medical records, telehealth, online scheduling and pricing information. St. Luke’s is also recognized as one of the state’s lowest cost providers in comparison to major teaching hospitals and other health systems.