By John McClain
As I prepared for my first session at the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute, I envisioned it as a medieval torture chamber. Friends who had undergone major surgery and had endured physical therapy at various rehabilitation facilities around the country told me to expect pain and that I better learn to embrace it.
During my 44-year career as a sportswriter for the Houston Chronicle, where I’ve covered the Oilers, Texans and NFL since 1977, I’ve written hundreds of stories about players suffering injuries, undergoing surgery and the challenging recovery process they’ve experienced.
Dan Pastorini’s shoulder, Elvin Bethea’s hand, Mike Munchak’s knee, Bruce Matthews’ back, Matt Schaub’s foot and J.J. Watt’s broken leg — I’ve chronicled the physical ordeals experienced by the greatest football players in Houston history. Still, I wasn’t prepared mentally or physically for what I was going to go through during what could stretch into a year-long rehabilitation.
I have to admit I was intimidated when I approached the Institute’s Memorial City location for the first time in early August. I could barely lift my arm after orthopedic surgeon extraordinaire, Dr. Andrew Choo, replaced my left shoulder and humerus bone during a three-hour surgery necessitated by my nasty fall at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
I’m so fortunate that Dr. Walter Lowe and Dr. James Muntz steered me to Dr. Choo and the IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute. They’ve made an unbelievable difference in my life since an ambulance delivered me to them in late July when I was in agonizing pain.
Now, 10 months later, I have to chuckle when I look back on the apprehension I felt — brought on by my own inadequacies.
Before I explain, let me point out something I wholeheartedly believe: I wish I had suffered the same injuries years ago.
Why? Because rehabilitation at Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute-Memorial City has been incredible! I think I can speak on behalf of so many others who have undergone rehab at the same time I have – working with everyone at the Institute has been a phenomenal experience for us.
The impressive operation at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center starts with clinic director Talal Hariri. Under his leadership, the staff does a tremendous job of helping us recuperate physically and mentally after major surgery.
And don’t overlook the mental part. Hariri’s therapists understand that a crucial part of their job is to help us get over the anguish that comes with any major surgery.
When I went through their doors for the first time, I had no confidence that I would be able to pull off what Dr. Choo told me I needed to do to get back to work and cover the Texans on a daily basis for the Chronicle and Sports Radio 610.
Not only have I done it, I’ve done it with a desire and determination I haven’t felt in years.
One of the things I like most about the Institute is the friendly atmosphere. It’s all about work, of course, but Hariri’s experts get to know their clients. They know when to have a smile and when to deliver a kick in the butt to get the best out of us. They’ve done such a remarkable job with me that I can’t wait to get there and perform the next steps in my recovery process.
I can’t tell you how much my therapist, Yolanda Aquino, has meant to me. She’s a demanding ball of fire who’s pushed every button in a way that’s exactly right for me. Not only has she improved me physically, but she built up my confidence so much that I’ve changed my lifestyle.
Thanks to Aquino and the Institute, I’m in my best shape in 20 years and determined to continue this lifestyle change because I just feel so darn good. A lot younger, truthfully. I’m much more active than I was when my therapy began. My shoulder and humerus bone feel like new, which they are, thanks to Dr. Choo. Aquino has helped me conquer my fears, overcome my limitations and set higher goals during my rehab.
When I arrive for my twice-a-week, morning sessions, I’m greeted by therapists and staff members who make my day. I’d like to give some of them a shout-out because I believe they deserve recognition for the terrific contributions they bring to IRONMAN on a consistent basis, starting with Hariri and Aquino and continuing on to the amazing LaTrice Ferguson, Mara Hochman, Jamie Chauvin, Morgan Sonnier, Kenny Rivas and Sean Harris.
Thank you to Hariri, Aquino and the rest of the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN staff who help me start my days with a newfound vigor and a renewed emphasis on a lifestyle change that I hope will last me for another 20 years!