Sports Medicine Center Gets Blue Valley West Player Back on the Mound
Chris Nordstrom began playing baseball even before he started school. “Baseball has always been my favorite sport,” the 17-year-old said.
So when he was standing on the mound as a freshman pitching for Blue Valley West, it was almost like a dream come true. Then he felt a pop in his right elbow.
“I had had some pain in the bottom of my elbow,” Chris said, “but it had started to go away. I told the coach I could pitch, and he put me in the game.”
After his second pitch, his elbow completely gave out, and just minutes later, Chris left the field.
“I was in excruciating pain. I walked off the mound,” he said. “My first thought was that I would never play baseball again.”
Chris’ mother, Maria Nordstrom, said her son’s arm was just dangling at his side. “I had never seen Chris in so much pain,” she said. “We knew there was something seriously wrong.”
Chris’ parents took him to Children’s Mercy Hospital Kansas to have the injury evaluated and he was referred to Donna Pacicca, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in caring for student athletes like Chris.
She diagnosed Chris with a growth plate injury involving an avulsion fracture and a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament, a common injury for throwers because it is an active area of growth in the upper arm bone.
“Dr. Pacicca did a wonderful job of describing the injury and surgery to us,” Maria said. “She was very direct and strict in her instructions to Chris.”
Chris spent the week prior to surgery in a hard cast to immobilize the injury and reduce his pain. During the outpatient procedure, Dr. Pacicca reattached the ligament and repaired the fractured elbow with a screw.
“The first thing Dr. Pacicca said to us when we saw her after surgery was, ‘Chris will throw again,’” Maria said. “That was very reassuring.”
Following surgery, Chris wore a hinged elbow brace, which was gradually adjusted to allow full extension of his arm.
A few weeks after surgery, he started physical therapy at the Sports Medicine Center at Children’s Mercy Blue Valley with Jason Yoder, DPT, Sports Physical Therapy Manager.
“Growth plate injuries are unique in that they occur in our developing and maturing middle and high school athletes,” Jason explained. “If not managed appropriately, they can create long-term issues related to the development of the bone, and ultimately, function of the affected body region.”
“Jason worked with me to help correct the bad body mechanics that had contributed to my injury in the first place,” Chris said. “I had to completely re-learn how to throw a baseball.”
“Chris is a middle infielder primarily and had a very long arm pattern that was elbow-dominant,” Jason explained. “That was going to set him up for re-injury if not addressed.
“We not only completed formal rehabilitation to focus on strength, range-of-motion and overall function of his elbow, but also spent time on his entire upper quarter, core and lower extremity strengthening related to throwing mechanics, as well as specific drills to ensure long-term arm health.”
After months of faithfully following his rehabilitation plan, Chris was able to return to the baseball field by the spring of his sophomore year.
Maria said she was impressed by the collaboration and communication between Chris’ surgeon and physical therapist.
“Jason really kept Dr. Pacicca informed of Chris’ progress, and they communicated well with us, always including Chris in any discussions,” she said.
“Thanks to our expertise, we were able to diagnose and care for Chris as a developing athlete,” Jason said. “But he did his part too. He was a very hard worker who complied with post-op restrictions, timeline to throwing and recommendations for return-to-play.”
As Chris prepares for his final season playing competitive high school baseball, he’s confident he’ll have a great season this spring.
“If there was anything I could tell someone else who is going through an injury like this, it’s that it’s not life-changing,” Chris said. “Thanks to Children’s Mercy, my arm is actually better than ever!”
Maria agreed and added, “Dr. Pacicca and Jason were passionate about getting Chris back to the game he loves. That’s the Mercy way!”
Learn more about the Sports Medicine Center at Children's Mercy.