Back on Track



Story by Sheri M. Bestor
Photography by Myke Ramsdale

The Olympic Games bring renewed interest in the top athletes of the world, individuals who have spent their life training to be in prime physical condition. What happens when the unthinkable occurs; the body does break down, requiring nothing less than surgery? Thanks to a technique called minimally invasive surgery, many professional athletes can have conditions corrected with shortened recovery time, allowing a quicker return to training and competition.

"Athletic pubaglia", or sports hernia, a condition caused by repeated trauma to the groin area that results in muscle and tendons pulling away from the pubic bone, can be corrected through minimally invasive surgery. The symptoms include pain in the groin area that is often difficult to diagnose initially. If a physical exam does not indicate that the pain is caused by what is known as an inguinal hernia (an abnormal opening in the floor of the groin), strains of the adductor muscles or other muscles crossing the hip joint or other causes, the condition is then diagnosed as athletic pubaglia The ongoing pain of this condition may prohibit athletes from competing or even training in their sport, with the only "cure" being surgery.

"All of the athletes that I have performed surgery on have returned to playing their professional sport, making it a 100 percent success rate thus far," said Dr. Richard Cattey, chief of surgery at St. Mary's Hospital in Mequon.

Cattey is known worldwide for performing athletic pubaglia operations. Cattey, specializing in general, vascular, was a founding member of the Milwaukee Institute of Minimally Invasive Surgery, along with his associate, Dr. Lyle Henry. He is also a clinical instructor at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Cattey resides in Mequon with his wife Katie and three daughters, and his career choice has always been in the medical field. "I have always enjoyed taking care of people. Through surgery, you are able to use your hands to make people better. In many medical fields, you can help people, but you can't cure them. In surgery, you have a high potential to actually cure them, and return them to normal. It is very gratifying." said Cattey. "I really enjoy what I do."

"Dr. Cattey is one of a handful of surgeons in the world doing athletic pubaglia repair, and because of this notoriety, he has been sought out by a number of athletes in different sports; hockey, rugby, soccer, track and field," said Laurie Brill, program coordinator for the Milwaukee Institute of Minimally Invasive Surgery. Cattey has performed this surgery on four Olympic athletes, including three soccer players and a racewalker. His patients also include professional and collegiate hockey players, a Milwaukee Wave player, players from the NBA and MLS, a top ranked junior tennis player and a member of the Chicago Fire Major League Soccer Team. With the rate of success and his background, Cattey is one of the few surgeons these athletes will go to for this surgery. "Oftentimes, athletes of this caliber are allowed to only see certain surgeons."

Tim Seaman, a track and field athlete who participated in the 20 km racewalk at the 2000 Olympics, was one of Cattey's patients.

"I was having pain in the lower part of my abdominals. I was not able to sit up in bed at all, and therefore I was not able to do even one sit-up. I had to roll out of bed everyday. Can you believe that I was 25 years old, a national champion and I could not get out of bed like a normal person?" said Seaman.

Seaman had already undergone surgery in 1998 to correct the problem. It was an incredibly difficult surgery to recuperate from, taking four weeks before he could start his rehab work and over seven weeks before he could run. "Toward the end of that season, when I was doing my final training for the World Championships in Seville, Spain, I started to feel that dull aching feeling again, and soon the pain was just like it was before the surgery," explained Seaman.

Seaman called a friend, a professional soccer player from Chicago, who recommended Cattey. From August 1997 to October 1998, Seaman had seen at least 20 doctors, "and nobody could help me." Seaman then talked with his trainers at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA., who approved of his move for the surgery. After the procedure, Seaman was able to start his rehab work within seven days and was able to run three miles on his first training day at 13 days after surgery. About a month after surgery he was able to do over 500 sit-ups without a problem. "It was a great feeling to be able to just sit up in bed without pain."

Seaman states, "I cannot express enough gratitude to Dr. Cattey for helping me. It is because of him that I was able to have the opportunity to compete again, and there is no doubt that without his help, my Olympic dream would not have been realized."

Minimally invasive surgery corrects athletic pubaglia using an advanced technique called laparoscopy." The surgeon creates three slits in the skin and an instrument called a laparoscope is inserted through one of the slits. Using this tool to provide a visual pathway into the area to be operated, a team of surgeons can view the internal area in a magnified viewing on a screen. The instruments required to do the repair are inserted through the other slits.

Because of the smaller incisions and less invasive procedure, the recovery time is significantly shortened, with most patients having a hospital stay of a few hours after the surgery versus a few days as in a more invasive procedure. With less postoperative discomfort, there is less need for medication. Minimal scarring and likelihood for wound complications such as infection in the incisions are also benefits. For more information on health topics, visit



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