Joseph Congeni, MD, director of sports medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital, discussed the recent injuries to Anderson Varejao. The Cleveland Cavaliers forward suffered a tear to his vastus medialis obliquus muscle in his thigh, as well as a season-ending pulmonary embolism (blood clot) in his lung. Originally aired on 1590 WAKR-AM on January 23, 2013. Transcript and audio below.
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[Cleveland Cavaliers’ center Anderson Varejao underwent surgery earlier this month for a torn leg muscle, but remains hospitalized with a blood clot in his lower right lung. He is expected to make a full recovery, but it will force him to miss the rest of the season.]
Horner: Let’s bring our good friend, Dr. Joe Congeni from sports medicine at Children’s Hospital, into the show. Unfortunately, Joe, Andy Varejao, who had the knee muscle surgery and then they [found] the blood clot in the lung, is done for the year. Can you talk about these two situations for Andy with us?
Dr. Congeni: Yeah. We get some strange situations just looking in from the outside in Cleveland sports, sometimes. These are not very typical things that occur, but here we are the second time this year speaking about a blood clot. You remember, Ray, in the fall that (Cleveland Browns player) Jason Pinkston’s season came to an end — and actually his career was threatened, to some extent — with a blood clot in the lung.
The blood clot in the lung is known as a pulmonary embolism — it’s the fancy medical word for it. Pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening problem and so really kind of a frightening thing. Looking back at the time line for Anderson Varejao, it’s really unusual. You know, he was leading the league in rebounding, 14.5 rebounds a game, and on Dec. 18 just before Christmas, he hurt his knee. He felt like he was bruised, and he would miss a few games. They did an MRI. Apparently, from what I’ve seen online and elsewhere, the initial MRI showed a deep bruising and maybe some bleeding around the thigh and the muscle. [Doctors] thought it was a pretty typical deep thigh bruise. It wasn’t getting better over a couple of weeks and so after Christmas, another MRI was done.
They discovered a tear of a muscle called the Vastus Medialis Oblique, which is also known by a lot of people as the VMO. The VMO is the muscle above the knee that actually holds the kneecap in place. So when you’re jumping and running a lot, the VMO is the muscle you rehabilitate. When it’s torn, [Varejao] just couldn’t push off, couldn’t run or jump as they tried to get him back to play. It was discovered he had a tear in this muscle, which is fairly unusual. After a couple of opinions on him — they flew Andy a couple places to get [additional opinions] — they decided to do surgery.
On Jan. 10, the surgery was done. Right after surgery, the 11th, the 12th, the 13th, he was in rehab, as you would with an NBA athlete. I guess he started getting symptoms the last week, the 16th or 17th, and ultimately, they diagnosed him as having a blood clot in the lung, a pulmonary embolism. Luckily, from what I heard, it was caught in time. He’s supposed to go home from the hospital today. He’ll be on blood thinners for at least three months. The problem is you can’t play when you’re on blood thinners. You can’t play football. You can’t play basketball. Obviously, thinning the blood, you’d be at risk for bruising, but the biggest risk would be if you got hit in the head. If you had a head injury, you’d be at more risk for bleeding in the brain, so no more play for Andy this year.
It’s been a very unusual set of circumstances over the last five weeks, and two significant blood clots in Cleveland sport athletes in the last few months.
Horner: Any relation with these two things, Joe?
Dr. Congeni: You know, I’m trying to figure it out, too, because we had a case in a very high-profile, local college athlete that we had down at our place, too. When you look at blood clots, you look at things like prolonged bed rest. Well, in an athlete, you’re not having prolonged bed rest, certainly post surgery, but, in this case, he’d just come from surgery.
Some of the things I read online said they didn’t think it had anything to do with the surgery. Sometimes medications that people are on, or supplements, or dehydration [can lead to blood clots], but we looked at all those things in our athlete, too. You’d expect in an athletic person, under the best of circumstances, that probably those wouldn’t be the case. So, it’s another mystery.
Again, from a distance, I’m not exactly sure. The good news is this life-threatening condition seems to have been treated and he’ll be back on the road to recovery. But it just leads to a real frustration for a guy that was doing so well, leading the league in rebounding.
Horner: Alright, good stuff, Joe. I appreciate the time. We’ll catch up with you again next week.