WUSM surgeon helps pro athletes overcome serious medical conditions

O'Neill's Hit & Run: Wednesday Edition

(Republished with permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This article originally ran in the Sports section on Wednesday, December 14, 2005)

By Dan O’Neill
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Colorado Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook received the Tony Conigliaro Award from the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America last week. And that was especially gratifying for Dr. Robert Thompson at Washington University.

The award was established in 1990 to honor major league players who overcome adversity. It was named for the former Red Sox star whose career was nearly ended in his prime when he was hit in the face with a pitch in 1968. Conigliaro came back a year later and, after retiring prematurely, made another comeback. He died in February 1990 after an eight-year battle to recover from a massive heart attack.

Cook missed nearly a year after suffering blood clots in both lungs while pitching on Aug. 7, 2004. At that time, Rockies trainers and medical staff made the life-saving decision to rush him to a hospital. Turned out Cook was suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition where the main vein that goes to the arm is compressed, leading to clotting and obstruction of the vein. It occurs at the point in the vein where it crosses from the arm into the chest, right behind the collarbone.

Correcting the problem required two operations, one to remove the top rib on the right side and another to reroute a vein in his wrist. That’s where Thompson came in, performing the operations on Cook in September 2004 in St. Louis. As he recovered, the Rockies righthander spent the first half of the 2005 season rehabbing in the minor leagues before returning to the parent club on July 30. In 13 second-half starts, Cook went 7-2 with a 3.67 ERA.

As for Washington U.’s Doc Thompson, he is now 2-0 with big-league players. He performed similar surgery on Arizona outfielder Luis Terrero in 2003. But Thompson is most pleased about the inspiration his high-profile patients create.

“We’re thrilled Aaron has been honored with this award,” Thompson said. “Like many of the athletes we treat here, he was a highly motivated patient, tenacious in his rehab. His recovery is an inspiration not only to baseball players but to others who suffer from various forms of thoracic outlet syndrome.”

Copyright 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.