Thomas Guardino

When my experience with Hospital for Special Surgery first began, I was in a poor position mentally and physically, and my outlook on things weren’t the best. I had been competitively playing soccer in the Tri-State area since I was four-years-old. My soccer career included playing competitively in the highest division of the Monmouth and Ocean County  (NJ) Soccer Association (MOSA) with the Brick Sharks. From there I played up a year on the Twin County Titans where we climbed to the top of the Mid-Atlantic Premier Soccer league from 2008- 2010. During this time, I was receiving training from elite coaches and trainers, using my older brother as the connection. Such training included private skills sessions with the head coach of Monmouth University. I often attended training sessions and tournaments under his supervision. This helped build my skills and confidence to try out and ultimately make a series of different select teams that drew from the top players in the Tri-State area.

My career continued to the Freehold Storm, returning back to my age on an elite team that was actively competing in premier soccer tournaments along the East Coast of the United States. On this team, I began to experience incredibly painful patellar dislocations to my right knee and eventually on my left as well. Between the spring of 2011 and the spring of 2014, I had experienced 11 patellar dislocations, 8 to my right and 3 to my left knee, each accompanied by a sometimes severe tear in the medial patellar-femoral ligament (MPFL). With this, my dreams of playing competitively in college were crushed as it was time to hang up the cleats for good. At the time, my career at my high school, Christian Brothers Academy, was bright, hopeful, and cut short. As a freshman, I was being seriously considered for the varsity team, an accomplishment only five players in school history have achieved. My chance and placement in school history as the sixth was taken away due to a dislocation during the tryouts. I missed most of that season and went on to play an important leadership role on the varsity team as the starting center midfielder. As only a sophomore, my ability caught the attention of reporters for elite high school sports and I was noticed by competing teams to watch out for. From my high school play, I began to look forward to playing for top division schools in the United States. I was most proud of interest from the University of Virginia, Princeton University, and Monmouth University. Due to further complications, my career was over, and my chances for Division I soccer were shattered.

My knees were in such bad shape that one of the dislocations happened while I was taking a step from grass to concrete, nowhere near a soccer field or the sport. I was told by a local physician that there was a talented surgeon in Manhattan that specializes in knee surgeries, including the operation I was to be receiving. Taking his advice, I had met with Dr. Beth Shubin Stein, someone who would ultimately change my life. When I first met with her, she was welcoming and allowed me to feel comfortable immediately. She knew I was scared and hurting and was quick to ease my nerves. At this time, I was looking to a medical operation to restore a normal lifestyle. I had given up on soccer because it was the reason I was in pain.

Due to a shallow femoral groove caused by improper growth and formation from birth, I had a high-riding patella, prone to dislocation due to my bone structure. The strong muscle contractions that are caused by kicking a soccer ball are enough to pull the knee cap from the socket towards the outside, exactly what happened 11 times. I no longer wanted to play soccer, I just want to be a kid again. I wanted to be able to ride my skateboard again. I wanted to be able to actually play street basketball or football instead of watching from the side, terrified that playing would lead to an excruciating dislocation. Without even thinking, Dr. Shubin Stein told me that I would be back on the soccer field playing without knee braces or worries in about a year. I couldn’t believe that. It was above and beyond any expectation I had.

In Dr. Shubin Stein’s office, she calmly inspected my knee and used X-rays and MRI screenings to determine an operation was necessary. She was the one who taught me about my obscure bone structure. She proposed a position in her case study, which would ultimately decide what type of surgery I would receive. She explained that so many people in my position were receiving a major operation revolving around the bone structure, like a tibial tubercle transfer operation, that were often unsuccessful and included incredibly painful recoveries. She suggested a study to investigate if patients eligible for the major operations could have more success with a ligament operation. As a result, I underwent two MPFL operations in the same year–my right knee in March of 2014, the left ifive months later.

The experience I had at at the Hospital for Special Surgery, with Dr. Shubin Stein, was absolutely incredible. In my office visits, she was always professional and friendly. She made me feel like I wasn’t just another case for her. She built a personal connection with both myself and my father, and it is always a pleasure to see her. Office visits were more fun and beneficial trips to the city rather than dreaded doctor’s office visits. She was always informative and helpful with any questions, and encouraged me to contact them at any time throughout the recovery. Her team, including Amy, the Physician Assistant, and everyone on the nursing and operating staff were flawless. They helped me feel safe and comfortable and as pain-free as possible before, during, and after the operation. They were always there to help and constantly checked in on me.

The overall experience had an overwhelming effect on me. Two years later, I feel great. I am an active individual who loves to skateboard and play basketball with friends. I exercise and stay active as often as I can because it is what I love. This experience changed my life. It gave me back the opportunity to be active and happy. It made me an even better version of myself than I ever was. This experience gave me direction and purpose. Due to the overwhelming effect Dr. Shubin Stein had on my life, it inspired me to pursue a career in orthopedic surgery. I long to be able to give back the feeling of having your life back to someone just like me. I want to be able to help athletes return to their sport, because I know personally how it feels to have what you love ripped away. I long to be in the position to help someone, just like Dr. Shubin Stein and everyone at the Hospital for Special Surgery.

Beth Shubin SteinThomas Guardino