Joe Zaccaro (Orangeburg, NY)
Tommy John Surgery
While a freshman on the Dominican College baseball team, Joe Zaccaro had more than an ordinary opportunity to pitch, gaining more innings than normal and was the only start of any other freshmen pitcher that season.
His undeniable commitment and steady determination to play carried him through the Summer of 2007 as the #1 starting pitcher for his summer league team, the Cornwall Corsairs.
Unfortunately, during one of the games, he could not get out of the third inning due pain. It was time to seek a solution to an elbow problem that gradually got worse with every season and eventually, every pitch. After meeting with other sports medicine professionals who treated the injury as ‘tendonitis’ he took the Fall of 2007 off from baseball in hopes that it would heal itself. By the time spring training came along, his elbow was not better. When Joe took to the field in early Spring 2008 for practice, he was not only frustrated by not getting through the standard 2 sets of 15 pitches, with a 13th pitch being the ‘worst ever,’ he realized his threshold for pain was significantly diminished.
Through a recommendation by his father’s friend, he met with Dr. Raphael Longobardi of University Orthopaedic Center in Hackensack, New Jersey. Joe was impressed that through a simple, skilled examination and stress xrays, Dr. Longobardi made a precise diagnosis – he did not have "tendonitis", rather his ulnar collateral ligament had been injured and stretched to a point it could not heal itself sufficiently to allow him to pitch again. In essence, no surgery, no baseball.
Dr. Longobardi explained the ‘Tommy John surgery’ as “a technique that reconstructs the UCL using a tendon from the forearm. The tendon is then used to recreate the damaged ligament and improve the stability of the elbow joint.”
In contemplating the prospect of surgery, Joe knew that he either needed to take the time, about 10-12 months – to get back into form or risk not playing a game he had played since t-ball days. His decision was obvious. Within a month of meeting with Dr. Longobardi, Joe had the “Tommy John” procedure done.
It was an outpatient procedure (performed at the Metropolitan Surgery Center in Hackensack). After a few weeks in a sling and brace, Joe started a physical therapy program over the course of the next few months to increase mobility and strengthening. After a little more than three months, Joe began some light throwing.
Today, Joe is back on track, going from a ‘painful, no snap pitch’ to throwing 60 pitches at practice - all pain free – and with better velocity and strength that he had always experienced prior to his injury and setback. Overall, the time away from the game was well worth it. With just weeks to go before the season officially starts, Joe is ready and anxious to get back on the field at 100%!