MLB's best-known Tommy John surgeon suspends procedures amid coronavirus restrictions

Dr. James Andrews, the orthopedic surgeon famous in MLB and around sports for performing Tommy John surgery, has suspended all elective procedures — including Tommy John surgery — until the end of the coronavirus crisis.

Andrews complies with Florida order

A spokesperson for the Andrews Institute for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine gave the Boston Globe this statement:

“We are not performing any non-urgent or non-emergent procedures, including Tommy John surgery, in compliance with the governor’s executive order. We are adhering to these restrictions and all such cases are suspended at this time.”

Andrews and his institute are based in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis used an executive order on March 20 to prohibit "any medically unnecessary, non-urgent or non-emergency procedure or surgery which, if delayed, does not place a patient’s immediate health, safety or wellbeing at risk, or will, if delayed, not contribute to the worsening of a serious or life-threatening medical condition.”

That order may seem clear, but doctors themselves make the decision about whether a procedure is “non-urgent”. Andrews was under no obligation to stop performing the surgery if he considered it essential, but he’s now voluntarily determining it non-essential and won’t do another Tommy John procedure until restrictions on non-essential procedures are relaxed.

Is Tommy John surgery essential?

Andrews’ decision to stop performing Tommy John procedures adds a new layer to the bubbling controversy about whether the surgery is considered “essential” at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is pushing hospitals and health care providers to their breaking point.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale had Tommy John surgery on Monday, performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache. ElAttrache defended his decision to perform the surgery in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I know that I’m going to get criticized for taking care of these kinds of guys, but it’s essential to their livelihoods,” ElAttrache told the Chronicle. “If you have somebody’s career at stake and they lose two seasons instead of one, I would say that is not a nonessential or unimportant elective procedure.”

New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso has similar feelings, which he shared on Twitter on Monday. His teammate Noah Syndergaard underwent Tommy John surgery on Thursday, which was performed in Florida by Mets medical director Dr. David Altchek. Alonso was specifically responding to an article in Sports Illustrated that asked whether athletes should be having Tommy John surgery right now given the limitations of hospitals.

Athletes already have access to coronavirus testing that regular people can only dream of, so while a doctor may decide that Tommy John surgery is an essential procedure, they won’t be able to escape the narrative that athletes are getting preferential treatment when it comes to COVID-19.

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