Orthopaedic group scores one for the team
Mobile sports medicine unit serves both local community, NFL team
By Carolyn Rogers
The "Cadillac" of mobile sports medicine units made its National Football League debut early this September, thanks to a proactive group of orthopaedic surgeons from Kankakee, Ill.
"This vehicle is the only one of its kind in the NFL," reports Leo Swift, practice administrator for the Orthopedic Associates of Kankakee (OAK), an eight-member group with a reputation for being on the cutting-edge. "Were excited to be able to provide it."
The inspiration for the specially-equipped, 35-foot converted Winnebago came last year when the Chicago Bears were considering moving their summer training camp to nearby Bourbonnais, Ill., a town of 15,000 located 60 miles south of Chicago.
"We were working to bring the Bears into the area, and one of the things they needed was a medical care unit with imaging capabilities," Swift says.
By chance, the van that the orthopaedic group had been using as a mobile sports medicine unit for local sporting events had recently become unavailable.
"The timing was perfect for us to design a mobile unit to service the Chicago Bears as well as our own community," he says.
The new mobile unitemblazoned with the orange and blue "Bears" emblem as well as the OAK group logowas built by the specialty department at Winnebago Industries in Forest City, Iowa.
The vehicle is outfitted with the G.E. AMX-III, a portable X-ray unit that offers state-of-the-art imaging, and an AFP mini processor that is able to process film in 90 seconds.
"In addition to full X-ray capabilities, theres a comfortable exam area with an exam table designed to hold at least 500 lbs," says Michael J. Corcoran, MD, director of OAK Sports Medicine. Supplies such as IVs and sutures also are on hand so minor surgical repairs can be handled on site.
The Winnebago is equipped with bathroom and shower facilities and boasts a "Command Center" and lounge area complete with stove, refrigerator, television/satellite dish and computer access.
While it would appear the Winnebago has everything a team could ask for, it isnt quite perfect. "The big guys still have to bend over a little," Dr. Corcoran jokes.
Bears head to Bourbonnais
Thanks in large part to Swifts efforts, the town of Bourbonnais, and Olivet Nazarene University in particular, won its bid to become the new home of the Bears summer training camp.
"This whole thing was because of Leo," says Alexander E. Michalow, MD, director of OAKs Back and Spine Center. "Leo called Brian McCaskey (Chicago Bears Director of Business Development) a year or two ago and planted the seed. He really facilitated the process and got the community, local hospitals and banks to come to the plate."
"The community really came through," Swift says. "It took a big commitment; Olivet expanded and rebuilt the locker room, bought bigger mattresses for the dorms, resodded the playing fields. Its a beautiful facility."
Advance estimates of what the camp would mean to the local economy range from $1 million to $2 million.
"Itll be good for the community," Swift says. "This town needed a little shot in the arm."
On the road
OAK ordered the specially designed Winnebago in late February and picked it up late in July, just prior to the start of Bears summer training camp.
The mobile unit not only services the Bears training camps, it will travel to Champaign, Ill., for all eight of the Bears home games this year as well. The Bears 2002/2003 home games are being held in Champaign while renovations are made to their home playing facility at Soldier Field in Chicago.
"Weve covered pre-season games and two of their home games already," Swift reported in late September. "Were scheduled to cover all the home games for this season as well as any playoff games."
The actual player medical care is provided by the Chicago Bears team doctorsorthopaedic surgeons Gordon W. Nuber, MD, and Mark K. Bowen, MD, of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Swift is careful to point out. However, at least one of OAKs physician members travels to each Bears home game in order to be with the vehicle and to assist the team doctors with the imaging system.
"Its been outstanding," Swift says. "A number of players have been treated in the mobile unit, with no hitches. Weve been able to provide the diagnostic imaging for injured Bears players as well as players from the visiting team. And the images have been incredible. You cant even tell the difference between the images produced there compared to an in-office system."
Bears team doctors used the vehicle to conduct physicals during training camp, as well. "Its been used quite a bit," Swift says.
Unit serves local sports teams
While working with an NFL team is enjoyable, the mobile units primary purpose is to serve the local community. The unit is on the field every Friday night covering area high school football games.
"Its a great way to promote our practice and promote orthopaedics in the area," Swift says. "In fact, this Friday well be covering a heated local rivalry that usually draws about 10,000 fans."
OAK doctors serve as team physicians for Olivet Nazarene Universitys football team, so the unit is providing coverage for the colleges seven Saturday home games as well. The mobile unit also will be present at all the major sporting events in the area, such as a major womens triathlon, baseball games and some of the larger basketball tournaments.
"Its been well received by the community," Swift reports. "And the high school kids think its fantastic to be treated in the same vehicle the Chicago Bears and other NFL players are using."
You might be wondering what the price tag is for all this good will.
"For the initial investment, youre looking at a couple hundred thousand dollars, including equipment," Dr. Corcoran says.
The financial backing for the unit came strictly from OAK. The group bought the vehicle and worked with Winnebago Industries on the design and conversion work. Later, a few local sponsors chipped in as well, including Riverside Medical Center, Performance Physical Therapy, Mobic Anti-inflammatory and Taylor-Brown Chevrolet.
The group has no regrets.
"Its been just great," Dr. Corcoran says. "Alex and I have a strong interest in sports, and most of the guys in the group are from the Chicago area. Were having a lot of fun."
As exciting as this project has been, its just the latest in a series of community service projects the group has taken on. Just last year, OAK organized the construction of a "Safe, Accessible Playground" in Kankakees Beckman Park, modeled after the Academys safe playground builds.
"Were building another playground later this yearthis next one has a great design," Swift says. "Weve received a grant for $20,000 and have the full support of the community. We plan to build a new playground every year."
OAK physicians believe strongly in contributing to their community.
"You live there, your kids go to school thereit just makes sense to get out to meet the members of your community," Dr. Michalow says.
It makes sense from a business perspective, too, Swift points out.
"Were always looking for a way to serve the community, he says. "It spreads good will and the name of your practice throughout the area. Working with local sports teams has been a excellent tool not only to extend our practice into different areas sports medicine-wise, but also to create an orthopaedic awareness."
Another community service the group provides is a weekly sports medicine clinic for area sports programs. The doctors donate their time every Saturday morning to follow up with area high school and college athletes.
Services like these also make sense business-wise, Dr. Michalow says. "If Johnny hurts his knee and you take care of it, when grandma hurts her hip, the family thinks of you."