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The prognosis for a college basketball star’s gruesome injury

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is aptly called March Madness because it is known for the unexpected: bracket-busting Cinderella teams, game-winning buzzer beaters and heartbreaking losses. However, no one could have predicted the grisly injury suffered by University of Louisville guard Kevin Ware during the Elite Eight portion of the tournament.

While defending Duke University guard Tyler Thornton, Ware jumped into the air to contest Thornton’s three-pointer. During an awkward landing, Ware shattered his lower right leg and suffered an open fracture, which occurs when the bone punctures through the skin.

The injury was so disturbing that CBS declined to show it in subsequent replays. Piedmont Atlanta Hospital orthopaedic surgeon and former Chicago Bulls team physician James Kercher, M.D., who has not treated Ware, says this injury is extremely rare in basketball. “Open fractures are more common in football and even soccer,” he says.

It was perfect storm of Ware’s size and awkward landing that likely led to his injury. “Ware is a big guy and coming down on his leg with all of his weight is likely the cause of the injury, though there could have been asymptomatic, underlying problems,” he explains.

Ware's surgery and prognosis

“This type of break requires a certain amount of expertise to treat, but it is fixable,” says Dr. Kercher. “With an open fracture, the wound needs to be cleaned. A rod is then inserted into the tibia, which aligns the two fractures, stabilizes the bone and allows it to heal.”

Dr. Kercher says Ware can expect physical therapy to begin just hours after surgery. “Crutches will help him, but the bone requires normal walking to heal,” he explains. “Muscle groups shut down with this kind of injury and the goal is to get his leg muscles back to where they were or at least equal to the other leg. It will be about three weeks before Ware is able to walk unaided.”

The good news? He is expected to make a full recovery. “Ware will likely play basketball again once he gets his muscle strength back and he could return by next season,” says Dr. Kercher. “He will probably be back on the court making shots in three months. Once his muscle strength returns, he can start training and in as few as eight months, he could be released to play.”

Only time will tell how Ware recovers from his injury, but he has high success rates on his side. For more information on fractures and other injuries, visit Piedmont Orthopaedic Services.

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