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Stars New Medical Team the Best in the Business

The UT Southwestern Medical Center team, which will now serve as the official team doctors for the Dallas Stars, brings a unique perspective in working with athletes

Tuesday, 09.04.2012 / 3:04 PM / Feature
By Mark Stepneski
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Stars New Medical Team the Best in the Business

The UT Southwestern Medical Center team, which will now serve as the official team doctors for the Dallas Stars, brings

Dr. Robert J. Dimeff

a unique perspective in working with athletes. The group will not only have a staff of physicians at every Stars home game, but will provide complete medical care for the players. Dr. Robert J. Dimeff and Dr. William J. Robertson, two leaders in the field of sports medicine, will head a team of UT Southwestern physicians who will oversee the medical care of the Dallas Stars.

Dr. Dimeff, will be the director of medical services for the Stars, is the former head physician of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. He is past president of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. He’s the director of sports medicine at UT Southwestern.

Dr. Robertson, who will be the head physician for the Stars, has been on the medical staff of the NHL’s Boston Bruins, MLB’s Boston Red Sox and the NFL’s New England Patriots. He is an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and the chief of sports medicine and shoulder service at UT Southwestern.

“We’ll be providing all their medical services that they might require in terms of any kind of player injury or illness,” said Dr. Dimeff. “Our plastic surgeon and our neuropsychologist, who have been working for the team for the past ten years or longer, are part of our team. The emergency medical services, which oversee Dallas fire and rescue, also do all the emergency medical coverage for the American Airlines Center. Any event that is being held there, our emergency physicians and surgeons are attending.”

UT Southwestern Plastic Surgery is an integral part of the medical team working with the Stars. Dr. Jeffrey M. Kenkel, vice chair and professor of Plastic Surgery at UT Southwestern, has first-hand experience in working with hockey players – as he has served as the Stars team plastic surgeon for over a decade.

“If a player has a facial fracture, major laceration or other types of injuries that require plastic surgical repair, it is important that he receive expert attention immediately,” said Dr. Kenkel.

“What makes UT Southwestern unique is we have specialists that are some of the best in the world in their fields,” said Dr. Robertson. “We have specialists if somebody has an eye injury or needs LASIK surgery. Our plastic surgeons are second to none for reconstructive and cosmetic procedures. We have some of the best concussion experts in the world, guys that are the consultants for the NFL. That’s what people don’t realize, it’s not just orthopaedic injuries – it is truly medicine.”

The care of the players will go beyond just treating injuries. The UT Southwestern team will be responsible for conducting preseason and postseason physicals, as well as evaluating players that could be acquired via free agency or trade to make sure they are as advertised – and, if not, then determine what might need to be done to address any issue. UT Southwestern will also provide guidance in other areas such as nutrition.

“We have consultants who work with hockey players in the area, so we’ll provide consultation with the Stars and the trainers on the appropriate nutrition during the season and postseason,” Dr. Robertson noted.

The medical team will be prepared to address any health issue among the players, as athletes are just like anyone else in that they can get sick or develop a health condition. UT Southwestern is also equipped to handle other issues that a player may face. Dr. Dimeff noted that a player might face issues with his marriage, children or a variety of other issues that can be addressed by a medical professional.

“Sometimes people forget that all these professional athletes are human beings. They all have the same issues that we all have, and we have to be prepared to address that,” said Dr. Dimeff. “The idea is you try to make it easy for the players to do what they need to do, so they don’t have to worry about some of these other issues.”

Dr. William J. Robertson

The primary focus is sports medicine, and there have been major advancements in the field in recent years. Those advancements have come not only in the treatment of injuries, but in identifying them as well.

“We have better literature now than we did previously in terms of returning players back to sport activity, recognizing in the past that we may not have done the smartest things,” said Dr. Dimeff. “We’ve made advancements in surgical techniques, biologics, and alternative types of treatment.”

What may have been diagnosed as a groin strain five or ten years ago, doctors see as completely different these days.

“The major advancements in hockey are the advancement in the knowledge of sports hernia, and in the advancement of knowledge of hip arthroscopy,” said Dr. Robertson. “And as much as the advancement of the technical aspects of the arthroscopy, the equipment and the ability to get into the hip to treat it and the advancements of surgery, it’s probably more so the advancement of knowledge. It’s not just a groin strain. Ask a hockey player how many times he has strained his groin, he’ll tell you he’s been diagnosed with a groin strain several times. Actually, it might not have been a groin strain but a sports hernia or a labral tear of the hip. We have a better understanding of those two entities now and we’re better in regards to treatment.”

Of course, when it comes to players and medical care, a lot of focus centers around injuries and whether the player can play, or when he can return. That is one of the biggest challenges for a team doctor.

“We take care of the player first. There’s all that stress that the media put on the team and the players, but the first thing we do is look at the player and take care of his problem, regardless of what it is and irrespective of playing the game,” said Dr. Dimeff. “The challenge is always can they play with this, what risk are we willing to tolerate and what risk are they willing to tolerate in terms of playing with an injury or an illness. That comes with experience in dealing with all these situations.”

Players can be impatient patients. They want to return quickly from an injury, and that can be a challenge to the team’s physicians as well.

“The biggest challenge in treating professional athletes, especially hockey players, is they want to play. Sometimes the biggest challenge is protecting them from themselves,” said Dr. Robertson. “Sometimes you have to be a little paternalistic, tell them this is not in your best interest, and that we need to address these issues so it is safe for you to go back. We and the Stars have the long-term health and the long-term career aspirations in mind when taking care of these players.”

And the belief is that having the care of the Stars under one roof will be an advantage in providing medical care.

“Everybody is on the same team and reports to the same boss,” said Dr. Dimeff. “It makes it easy to communicate within the organization, medical records are easily interchangeable. We have access to any notes someone who sees the patient creates. There are cost savings because there is not duplication of effort that may occur. We’re able to negotiate prices to get the better value for the players.”

And there are some rewards being the health care provider for the Dallas Stars as well. It’s something that both Dr. Dimeff and Dr. Robertson envisioned when they got into the field of sports medicine.

“It’s great working with athletes,” said Dr. Robertson. “They want to get better. They want to do what they do at the highest level. Being able to get them back to what they love to do, and really defines sometimes who they are, is really gratifying.”

For more information on UT Southwestern, please visit their home page at www.utsouthwestern.edu, or their patient care website at www.utsouthwestern.org. You can also follow UT Southwestern on Facebook and Twitter (@utswnews and @utswmed).

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