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Timothy Blake has been playing sports since kindergarten. He played baseball in college. Later, as a Chicago police officer, he joined the Chicago Police Finest Baseball Team. The team has played in the First Responders Appreciation Day fundraiser on the Field of Dreams in Iowa, which was used in the 1989 movie of the same name.
Blake is a pitcher on the team. He was on the mound pitching in a game against Dallas firefighters in September 2021 when something went terribly wrong. The turf mound was a little wet. At the last minute, he was told he couldn’t wear spikes. He had regular gym shoes on when he started his normal pitching motion.
“When I went to throw, I released the ball and I could feel my foot sliding forward,” says Blake. “It wasn’t stopping. I remember telling myself, ‘You have to stop. Your leg has to stop.’ When I came down on it [his knee], it was with my full force.”
Blake couldn’t feel anything from the knee down for a few seconds, he says. Then came the pain. “I felt excruciating pain in my knee down to my foot. I was laying there and tried to get up. When I stood up, I felt my knee pop,” he says. “It was just a freak accident.”
Everyone came running to his aid. He tried to stand up and walk off the field, but he couldn’t. He was carried to the dugout. While the firefighters at the game told him that he could go to the emergency room, the reality is he’d ultimately be referred to an orthopedic doctor, says Blake. He decided to wait until the following Monday to make an appointment with a specialist.
That’s when he met Zahab Ahsan, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon with Edward-Elmhurst Medical Groups-Orthopedics.
Dr. Ahsan completed his medical training in July 2020. His training included a residency at the University of Washington and Harborview Medical Centers in Seattle, and a fellowship in shoulder surgery and sports medicine at the Hospital of Special Surgery in New York City, which is ranked as the best hospital for orthopedic surgery in the country by U.S. News and World Report.
Blake was one of Dr. Ahsan's first cases since joining Edward-Elmhurst Health. The two had something in common before meeting each other in person: sports.
“I grew up being passionate about sports and had had a few injuries myself, including my own ACL,” says Dr. Ahsan. His role as an orthopedic surgeon allows him “to align my personal passion for sports with my professional goals. It’s really cool to combine the two,” he says.
Dr. Ahsan evaluated Blake days after the injury. Blake was on crutches and couldn’t walk. Dr. Ahsan ordered an X-ray and MRI, but already had an idea of what happened based on a video of Blake’s last pitch. The surgeon was able to see the exact moment Blake was injured.
“I had a good sense of what happened,” says Dr. Ahsan. It looked like Blake’s knee had a violent twist, he says. He suspected the athlete injured his ACL.
The ACL is the anterior cruciate ligament that is inside of the knee joint and stabilizes the knee against front-to-back or back-to-front movements. It’s a common injury. But Blake’s injury was anything but common. He also injured his LCL. The LCL is the fibular or lateral collateral ligament. It is a cord-like band and is the knee’s primary stabilizer.
“When it’s a single ligament, it’s more straightforward. When there are multiple injuries to the knee, it just complicates the situation a little,” says Dr. Ahsan.
Dr. Ahsan did a lot of planning and research on the surgery because it was such a rare injury. He spoke with colleagues and other doctors to make sure he was doing the right thing. “This is not something you see every day,” he says. The plan included replacing Blake’s LCL with a cadaver LCL. “If we didn’t do this, he may not have been able to walk,” he says.
The surgery went exactly as planned, says Dr. Ahsan.
While Dr. Ahsan did everything to prepare, “Once you are there, there’s definitely a lot of decisions that need to be made during the surgery. We rely on our previous experiences. There were different steps along the way that I had to use my best judgment on how to proceed,” he says.
Five hours after surgery, Blake was on his feet. “I was in rehab doing basic lifting and building muscles,” he says. He spent six months in rehab and continues today. He hasn’t played baseball yet. It may take up to a year and a half of therapy before that happens, he says.
Blake was amazed that he was able to go back to work seven months after the surgery. He’s also grateful. “Dr. Ahsan knocked it out of the ballpark,” he says.
“I’ve recovered so much better than some of my buddies,” says Blake. “I couldn’t ask for a better doctor. Dr. Ahsan and Edward Hospital made it so easy.” He appreciated the goals Dr. Ahsan set, and how he explained the process of the surgery and the recovery. “I couldn’t ask for a better experience. He was awesome.”
Regarding Blake’s recovery, Dr. Ahsan says: “He hasn’t gotten back to playing baseball quite yet, but he’s working pretty hard to make that happen. I think he’s a very motivated individual, and he’s worked very hard in his rehab, which helps to have an excellent outcome.”
Learn more about treatments for knee issues at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
To learn more about Dr. Ahsan or to schedule an appointment online, visit his online profile.
The orthopedic team of experts at Edward-Elmhurst Medical Groups-Orthopedics provides exceptional orthopedic, sports medicine and podiatry services for patients of all ages. We use the least invasive treatments necessary to help you get back to the activities you enjoy, as quickly as possible. Learn more.
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