For the doctors at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego who expertly repaired Kevin Grendell's severely damaged clavicle, the most important thing saved may have been a young man's dream.
"Baseball is his passion," said Sandy Grendell of her 17-year-old son, a lefthanded pitcher who has played baseball year-round for years and earned a spot on a major league "scout" team for up-and-coming youth. "He's been working to be a professional baseball player since he was a little boy."
It was a dream almost interrupted due to a broken clavicle not once, but three times. "The first time he caught his foot on something and fell," said Kevin's dad, Bruce. "The second time, it snapped when he was playing first base and was struck by a runner, and the third time he landed on his shoulder during weight training in P.E. It was a series of unfortunate accidents, especially for a pitcher."
The third break occurred in September 2010 as Kevin started his junior year at San Pasqual High School, a particularly inopportune time. "Between your junior and senior year in high school is the most pivotal time in terms of college athletic recruitment," Bruce said. "It was really important for Kevin to be well."
The Grendells turned to an old friend for help: Rady Children's. "My wife and I are both nurses and we've worked at several area hospitals," Bruce said. "But we've always brought our four kids to [Rady] Children's."
Kevin became the patient of Andrew Pennock, M.D., and Scott Mubarak, M.D., of Rady Children's Orthopedics Division, which consistently ranks among the top pediatric orthopedic programs in the nation and has expertise in sports medicine.
Dr. Mubarak, also clinical professor of orthopedics at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said that young children with clavicle fractures usually wear slings and don't require surgery. However, surgery has become more common among teens, particularly athletes, over the last several years, prompted by new and better instrumentation and other factors, he explained. "There is increasing emphasis on restoring the anatomy of young athletes to retain their best possible alignment and strength," he said.
In Kevin's case, where the injury's intensity had left his shoulder drooping, surgery was clearly the best option, said Dr. Pennock, a sports medicine specialist who joined Rady Children's last year, and an assistant clinical professor, UC San Diego School of Medicine. "Kevin's clavicle was severely displaced," he said. "It was 55 degrees in the wrong direction."
Dr. Pennock and Dr. Mubarak realigned Kevin's bone and secured it with a metal plate and eight screws.
Coincidentally, Bruce was hired as Rady Children's operating room manager a week prior to Kevin's injury and was able to watch the procedure. "You can imagine that since they were working on my son and I was very new, I watched everything closely," Bruce said. "I was impressed by what I saw."
A 12-week recovery period followed for Kevin, and included the frustration of having to sit out the fall and part of the winter season. But the determined young athlete returned with a vengeance in February. "During the spring season, he threw a no-hitter against Fallbook High School," Bruce said. "It was only the second time in 33 years that a pitcher had thrown a no-hitter at San Pasqual High School. He was two walks short of a perfect game."
Word of the amazing feat spread and Kevin soon was named "Athlete of the Week" by The San Diego Union-Tribune and North County Times. It also wasn't long before college recruiters from Harvard, the University of Arizona and others came calling. Kevin also is on the watch list for several pro teams, including the White Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Now in his senior year, Kevin believes his ordeal has made him stronger. "I feel like I actually came back a stronger athlete and a stronger person," he said, adding that he owes a lot to his coach, former major leaguer Damian Jackson, who encouraged him throughout his recovery. "I learned you can never take anything for granted."
His family is thankful as well. "He's 100 percent," Sandy said. "He has full range of motion and no deficits from the injury. We are very grateful for the care that he received at Rady Children's."
For more information about Rady Children's Orthopedics Division, visit www.rchsd.org. To support Rady Children's Orthopedics program, click here and select "Pediatric Orthopedics" from the drop-down menu.
The San Diego Union-Tribune Kids' NewsDay, October 2011