By Heidi Smith, Contributor
When injuries, aches or pains strike, the frustration of being kept from something you love to do is real, no matter your activity level.
Lisa Perrault, Cindy Eaton and Clare Halsey know exactly what that’s like. As players in Englewood-based Senior Women’s Legends League Softball, the women have been sidelined in the past by a variety of injuries.
But fortunately, one of their league mates is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in correcting problems related to the wear and tear of sports and aging. And while they are amateur athletes, they received the same advanced care as professionals.
“I believe every patient should be treated equally. If you’re a weekend warrior and like to play sports, we’re using the same treatments and technologies that professional athletes receive to help with your recovery,” said Tracy Ng, D.O., with Gulf Coast Medical Group Orthopedics.
Dr. Ng is fellowship-trained in sports medicine and arthroscopy – a minimally invasive procedure for diagnosing and treating joint problems. She also performs robotic surgery for knee replacement as a member of the medical staff at Venice Regional Bayfront Health, and is the Atlanta Braves Spring Training orthopedic surgeon in North Port.
The Pitcher’s Story
Lisa Perrault, 46, grew up playing competitive softball. Today the Port Charlotte resident is a schoolteacher and a pitcher in the softball league. She came to know Dr. Ng, whom she calls Tracy, as a “great athlete” – a strong hitter who is also very quick on defense. When pain in Perrault’s left knee became intolerable, she knew where to go for help.
Dr. Ng starts with a conservative approach to treatment.
“When I examine the patient, I see where their issue is based on history and a physical exam,” the physician explained. “I try to treat conservatively first with physical therapy, exercises, weight loss, rest, bracing and over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medication. The next step may be injections of a steroid or hyaluronic acid gel, which can help with pain. If those measures fail, then we order an MRI and consider surgical options.”
In Perrault’s case, the MRI showed a defect “like a pothole” in the left kneecap, Dr. Ng explained. The surgery, performed at Venice Regional, involved opening Perrault’s knee, removing damaged tissue and applying a high-tech patch containing cartilage cells. The surgeon then applied amniotic fluid to accelerate healing and help reduce pain.
“The cartilage graft used on Lisa and the amniotic fluid are examples of ‘orthobiologics,’ new technologies and products that really help reduce inflammation, accelerate healing and reduce pain,” Dr. Ng explained. “These are the same advanced technologies that are used on professional athletes.”
“Our goal was to prevent me from having a knee replacement at a relatively young age,” Perrault says. “And it worked!”
About 18 months later, pain in Perrault’s other knee sent her back to Dr. Ng. This time, the MRI dictated a different approach: arthroscopic surgery, also performed at Venice Regional. Dr. Ng was able to use the minimally invasive technique to “clean up” the knee, then inject amniotic fluid.
“Tracy found places where the cartilage was worn away, so I’m probably headed for a knee replacement in the future,” Perrault said. “We’ll do everything we can to hold off on that for as long as possible.”
The Infielder’s Story
Infielder Cindy Eaton, 56, remembers meeting Dr. Ng three years ago through softball.
“She was so down-to-earth,” recalls Eaton, who is semi-retired and lives in Nokomis. “It was probably a month into the softball season before I found out she was a doctor.”
Like Perrault, knee pain was Eaton’s major complaint. Under Dr. Ng’s care, she tried steroid injections and strengthening exercises, but over the course of the next year, the pain increased. An MRI showed tears of the meniscus, which is rubbery knee cartilage that cushions the shinbone from the thighbone. Additionally, a ganglion cyst – a noncancerous lump filled with fluid – surrounded the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Because the ACL is a key ligament that helps stabilize the knee joint, the cyst needed to go.
Using the minimally invasive arthroscopic technique, Dr. Ng trimmed the meniscus on both sides of Eaton’s knee, removed the cyst, and smoothed the cartilage that interfered with the joint’s movement. Again, she used amniotic fluid to facilitate healing.
Eaton’s surgery at Venice Regional and subsequent rehabilitation were successful, and she returned to softball two months later.
The Outfielder’s Story
Wellen Park resident Clare Halsey, an outfielder and occasional catcher in the league, was a firefighter in Virginia before moving to Florida. After years of lifting and carrying heavy weights in her job, her left shoulder became increasingly more painful.
Halsey, 65, learned about Dr. Ng through fellow softball players. An MRI showed bone spurs, a partially torn rotator cuff, and bursitis (inflammation around the joint). Dr. Ng also diagnosed impingement syndrome, which is shoulder pain caused by rubbing of the rotator cuff between the humerus (arm bone between the elbow and shoulder) and the top outer edge of the shoulder. Fortunately, all of the damage could be repaired arthroscopically.
“For the partial tears to Clare’s rotator cuff, we used another orthobiologic,” Dr. Ng recounted. “Called a bioinductive implant, it’s like a patch we place over the tears and attach with staples that are bioabsorbable. The implant is composed of collagen that advances the healing process, and the patch increases tendon thickness. This helps with the biomechanics of the shoulder, which reduces pain and improves range of motion and strength.”
Four months after surgery, Halsey was playing softball again.
“You don’t realize how much you use your shoulder,” Halsey said. “Before I had surgery, I couldn’t reach into the clothes dryer with my left arm. Reaching for a dish on a shelf, I couldn’t do it.”
All of the players gave Dr. Ng high marks for the care they received, and the surgeon appreciates that her patients trusted their athletic futures to her expertise.
“I can relate to my patients because we are all sports-oriented,” Dr. Ng continued. “We all have this drive to play better, work harder and get back to the game when you’re recovered.”
“Tracy fixes us all and gets us back out on the field,” said Perrault with a laugh. “As an athlete, she knows the competitive spirit and wants to get people back on the field. It’s nice to be treated like a superstar even when you’re just playing in the ‘old lady’ softball league.”
Tracy Ng, D.O., sees patients at Gulf Coast Medical Group Orthopedics in Venice and Sarasota. To schedule an appointment, call 844-406-1007.
To take a free joint pain assessment, visit GulfCoastMedicalGroup.com/JointPainRelief.
Tracy Ng, D.O.
Gulf Coast Medical Group Orthopedics