COLUMBIA — Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the Tigers' loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship on Dec. 1. After surgery to repair the ligament and months of rehabilitation, an MRI revealed that the ligament had been retorn, and Alexander would be forced to have a second surgery on June 6 and rehab the injury a second time.
Now the junior is set to make his return on Saturday, three months after suffering an injury that normally takes four to six months to heal, and three weeks before coach Gary Pinkel said he expected him back.
Pinkel has repeatedly praised the efforts of Rex Sharp, MU's assistant athletic director of sports medicine, and credited him for the full and speedy recoveries of several key players, including receiver Jeremy Maclin, who suffered a severe knee injury before the 2006 season. Previously MU's head athletic trainer, Sharp got his new title in 2008, and serves on a national committee of collegiate athletic trainers.
He sat down with the Missourian on Monday to talk about Alexander's recovery.
Q: Where does Alexander's comeback rank in your years of practicing sports medicine?
A: We've had some pretty good success stories here, but I'd have to say in my 12 years here with Dr. Pat Smith, this is probably the quickest comeback we've had. And I couldn't be happier, because he's such a good young man. This is what we want - for someone to return to full activity as quickly as possible without risking further injury.
Q: What would you attribute the quick return to?
A: Well, there are three things you have to have. One, you have to have a good surgeon, and as far as I'm concerned, we've got the best in the country, Dr. Pat Smith. Two, you have to have a good rehab plan, and I like to think we can provide that. Three, you've got to have an athlete that's willing to do everything you ask them to do. That's the component I have no control over. Fortunately, in the years that we've been here, we've had athletes willing to make that commitment, and Danario's just the latest example.
Q: Did you do anything special to speed up his recovery?
A: Not really. The one thing about any rehabilitation is that there are no cookbook plans. What you have to do is tailor them to the needs of each individual athlete. Even, regardless of sport, you have to look at the sport, the demands of the position, whichever sport they're in, who you're dealing with. The timing of his injury, though, being in the summer, was certainly advantageous for us, because we didn't have to work around classes and other things in his schedule.
Q: As someone who's never suffered a serious injury, what sorts of things do you do to rehab an injury like that?
A: First off, you have to control the inflammation of the injury. Secondly, you have to restore range of motion. Then restore strength and endurance. Then you move on into sports-specific activity. Basically, what I always refer to is the SAFES principle: Strength, agility, flexibility, endurance and speed. I usually look at the needs of the athlete within the sport, and tailor the rehab based around those five basic principles to the need of the athlete.
Q: You said his surgery was June 7. When did he first come back in for rehab?
A: It was either that afternoon or the following day.
Q: So he rehabs the first time, then reinjures it again. What was his attitude like coming in the second time?
A: He's an elite athlete. You work 340 days a year, and if you're lucky, you get to play 14 games, and he'd done all that. To have that taken away from you, that's hard, anybody can understand that. He worked hard the first time, and probably could have played in the spring game, but we opted to hold him out. You go through that period after the second injury where you say, "How can these things happen? He's such a good guy." Then you get over that real quick, and then you focus in and your determination is set solely on getting back to full speed as quickly as you can. That's the approach Danario took, to his credit. There was very little of this, "Oh, woe is me." It was, "Oh, let's go get this done." And that's exactly the way he approached it. That makes our job a heck of a lot easier.
Q: What happened with the reinjury. Was there an incident?
A: I don't know, and frankly, I don't care to know. The fact is that it did. We found out when Danario had an MRI, and it just showed that the graft we implanted in December had been torn, the normal surgical procedure that we do. But it had torn somehow.
Q: When you saw that MRI and realized what had happened, what was the process that followed?
A: Well, we needed to first of all deal with Danario, and making sure he understands the meaning of the diagnosis, and refocusing him on not being discouraged, as anybody would be, to "Okay, well here's our plan." He was that way on that, and just said, "Okay, well, let's do what we need to do," and that was very important.