In 2013, a bankart tear almost ended Tom Sora’s college football career—before it even started.
As a high school senior, Tom was defensive captain of his team at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, IL, and college scouts had their eyes on him.
But just minutes into the team’s first game of the season, Tom’s rosy prospects seemed to vanish. In one damaging play, his right arm was pushed back—hard.
Keep reading to hear the whole story of Tom’s injury and learn how shoulder surgery helped him get back out on the football field and realize his dreams as a college standout.
Diagnosing Tom’s Bankart Tear
“It was a scary moment,” remembers Tom’s mom, Linda. “Tom dropped to one knee and waved for help with his other arm. The whole place was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.”
“I felt something in my shoulder slide, and it didn’t go back,” said Tom. “I tried moving my arm and couldn’t. It felt like the joint was outside where it was supposed to be.”
Dr. Marc Breslow, Notre Dame’s team physician and an orthopedic surgeon at IBJI-Morton Grove, ran onto the field with Tom’s coach. He recalls, “After asking Tom a couple of questions, we laid him down on the ground. Under his shoulder pads, I could feel the ball of the shoulder out in front of the socket.”
Dr. Breslow expertly popped it back in. “Tom felt me pop it back in. That really hurt, but after that, there’s little or no pain,” said Dr. Breslow. “Kids think they can go right back into the game, but of course, that’s not what we do.”
Dr. Breslow and trainers took Tom out, removed his pads, and iced and immobilized the injury. Dr. Breslow asked the Soras to come to IBJI the following Monday for an MRI. When Dr. Breslow saw the MRI results a few days later, he knew Tom had a common but potentially season-ending injury called a bankart tear.
“Bankart tears are tears to the cartilage or labrum of the shoulder,” he said. “They’re common shoulder injuries in contact sports and overhead athletics and often accompany shoulder dislocation.”
In young people under age 20, the chance of redislocation is 65% to 95%. Surgery is the most reliable solution, reducing the risk to 1%. The Soras were understandably concerned.
Tom Gets Back Out on the Field
“Colleges were coming to look at Tom. We thought we lost everything he’d worked toward for years,” said Linda.
Fortunately, Dr. Breslow had another option. He had helped other athletes like Tom with a special brace that holds the shoulder in proper position during play. It would allow Tom to delay surgery on his bankart tear and finish the season.
“If he had been a quarterback or wide receiver—players who have to raise their arms—it wouldn’t have worked, but because Tom played defense, it did,” said Dr. Breslow.”
Dr. Breslow, the team trainer, and physical therapists worked together to prepare Tom for the next game. The velcro brace was delivered and screwed onto Tom’s shoulder pads, controlling how far forward, back, and up his arm could go.
Tom remembers, “It was an extremely awkward feeling at first. The bankart tear really reduced my range of motion and reach, and I would tackle kind of lopsided. Amazingly, my play was still pretty good.”
“Dr. Breslow watched Tom like a hawk,” said Linda. “Having him on the field gave me confidence. The team made it to the second round of playoffs in late November, and Tom had a great season.”
Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery and Recovery
In November, Dr. Breslow performed outpatient arthroscopic surgery to repair Tom’s bankart tear at the Illinois Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery Center (ISMOSC), an IBJI-affiliated surgery center in Morton Grove.
“It was a wonderful facility, and the surgery went so well,” recalls Linda. “We checked in early and were ready to go home later that day.”
Two devices helped make the recovery process more comfortable for Tom: a shoulder pad with circulating ice water to keep pain and swelling down and a small catheter that delivered pain medication for the first two days.
“The catheter was taped to my neck and numbed up the nerves controlling the shoulder, and the ice machine was awesome,” said Tom. “I stayed on top of the meds just as Dr. Breslow advised and didn’t feel much pain.”
After keeping his shoulder immobile for four weeks, Tom started physical therapy. Dr. Breslow coordinated an intensive therapy plan for him, working closely with Tom’s high school trainer and physical therapist.
Tom remembers, “I wanted to push especially at the three, four, and five-month point when I thought I was completely healed, but Dr. Breslow paced me; keeping at it patiently paid off.”
By May, Tom was back to full activity with no restrictions. “I felt great,” he said. “I continued weight training over the summer and was ready for college play.”
How Tom Is Doing Today
Today, Tom is a freshman and starting linebacker on the varsity team at North Central College in Naperville. In his first few months of play, he was voted College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) Football Player of the Week.
“I followed Dr. Breslow’s instructions to the T, and that’s why I’m feeling so good right now, strength and stability-wise. I have had no problems this entire year,” said Tom.
Linda added, “Dr. Breslow understands athletes and guides them on what’s safe and right to do. He can keep them on the field when it matters and knows when to say when. He and his staff are top notch.”
“Having Dr. Breslow at that game made all the difference,” said Tom. “I’ve since met other guys who had the same injury. Some played through their seasons without a brace, and their joints popped out all over the place.”
Dr. Breslow is thrilled with Tom’s success after his bankart tear.
“Tom is an awesome young man. He had a great outcome, and it was a pleasure to help him continue to succeed in the sport he loves.”
Trust the Shoulder Doctors at IBJI
If you’ve experienced a shoulder injury like a bankart tear, contact an orthopedic shoulder specialist who will evaluate your condition and develop a shoulder care plan to help you feel better and get back to doing what you love.
Dr. Marc Breslow is a board-certified sports medicine surgeon at IBJI/Morton Grove. He has been a team physician for Notre Dame College Prep’s football team since 2007 and is a team physician in all sports for Niles West, Maine East, and Maine West.