Salem Orthopaedist Helps Multi-Sport Athletes Maintain Their Edge

Reprinted with permission by the Windham Independent

Family. It’s a term that’s often used to define a group of people related to one another, but in the case of Tori and Lee Sipes of Windham, it is also how they define their relationship with their orthopaedist.

“There’s a true sense of family – of caring – not only with Dr. Hawkins, but also with everyone at Essex Orthopaedics & Optima Sports Medicine in Salem,” said Tori Sipes.

Tori, 14, is referring to Dr. Matthew Hawkins, an orthopaedic surgeon both she and her brother, Lee, have spent a significant amount of time with over the last few years.

Tori, a freshman at The Derryfield School in Manchester, and Lee, a junior at Derryfield, are top-notch athletes. They are also both honor students. Tori competes in gymnastics, basketball, lacrosse and field hockey. Recently at the New Hampshire USAG state gymnastics meet, Tori won both bars and beam and was the all-around level 9 state champion. She then qualified for Eastern Nationals after placing 5th in the New England Regional Championship. As a freshman this year, Tori also won the title of High School State Champion for New Hampshire.

Lee, 17, has played soccer, football, ice hockey and lacrosse. He received three offers to play lacrosse in college. He chose to verbally commit at the beginning of his sophomore year in high school to attend Merrimack College following his graduation to play lacrosse.

Due to the high level of their training and competition, both have suffered numerous injuries and over-use issues for which they sought care at Essex Orthopaedics & Optima Sports Medicine in Salem.

“It’s important to not only take the time to understand the injury, but also the sport,” said Dr. Hawkins. “Being familiar with the athlete’s demands and sacrifices allows you as their doctor to develop plans that meet their needs and not just say they must rest for four weeks, as that may not be a realistic expectation.” Dr. Hawkins said when it comes to sports medicine, patients need to be educated to understand the difference between soreness that can be pushed through and pain that necessitates rest and re-evaluation.

Tori, who started gymnastics at age 7, trains approximately 16 hours per week. “It’s not an easy sport. It pushes you mentally and physically every day,” she said. A pulled hamstring represented Tori’s greatest physical challenge to date, causing her to lose much of her strength and flexibility. She received treatment from Dr. Hawkins as well as physical therapy at Optima Sports Medicine, the practice’s on-site physical therapy office. She said it helped tremendously knowing Dr. Hawkins’ daughters were gymnasts so he was aware of the skills she was performing. “It’s hard to find doctors who are aware of what we do,” she said. “Dr. Hawkins helped me not only recover from my injury, but also gain back my flexibility.”

Dr. Hawkins did even more than that for her brother, Lee, according to their mother, Dayrel Sipes. Preparing for a lacrosse tournament in Maryland, Lee determined his side really hurt and he was having difficulty breathing. His primary care physician prescribed pain medication. He traveled to the tournament, but found out he was in too much pain to compete. Upon his return, he went to see Dr. Hawkins, wondering if he could diagnose an injury. What he diagnosed was a collapsed lung, telling Lee he needed to go to the hospital immediately. “Dr. Hawkins was key in saving Lee’s life by getting us to Boston Children’s Hospital on time to blow Lee’s collapsed lung back up,” said Dayrel Sipes, adding that she felt fortunate to have a doctor that personally texted her later to see how Lee was doing.

According to Dr. Hawkins, the relationship between doctor and patient is important, as is taking care of little issues before they become big issues. Surgery is not always the answer. Complete rest from activity may not be either. Often, developing alternate or modified training does the trick. Educating the patient is key to avoiding overuse injuries and preventing re-injury. With proper instruction and support, athletes can return to play stronger than they were before the injury. “We don’t want to see our patients in our office. We want to see them active out on the field or in the gym – out living life to the fullest,” said Dr. Hawkins.

When they do need to come to the office, however, Dr. Hawkins said they try to make it as easy as possible, providing on-site X-rays and physical therapy, and same or next-day appointments.

“They always get you in quickly, and that’s a huge stress reliever for me,” said Lee.   “I don’t have to worry, ‘Can I play in the big game.’ I’m informed about the injury, the options and the recovery time so that I can make the best decision for me.”

“Had we not had a doctor we could trust, I do not believe either of my children would be strong or healthy enough to reach the levels of excellence they have,” said Dayrel Sipes. “You need a doctor you trust so the patient and child can tell the coach when they are not well enough to play in a key game and there will be no ‘power through.’”

Dr. Hawkins agrees, saying it’s the relationships that are key to athletes achieving the high level of athletic success that Tori and Lee Sipes have attainted. “In the world of competitive sports, it takes a real team effort by the patient, the family, coaches and the orthopaedic practice, and I’m always thrilled to be a part of that team. It’s what sports medicine is all about.”

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