The Best Medicine

By: Lorne Chan

Spurs Sports & Entertainment announced Methodist Healthcare System as the official healthcare partner of the Spurs and all SS&E franchises on Tuesday, but they were forever linked 17 years ago.

That was when Sean Elliott stepped back on the court and became the first player in major pro sports to return to play following an organ transplant.

Elliott was diagnosed with advanced kidney disease, and needed a transplant not only to play again, but also to survive. His brother, Noel, was a match for kidney donation, and Elliott underwent the operation at Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital. After a successful surgery and seven months of intense rehabilitation, Elliott made history and returned to the Spurs on March 14, 2000, marking his first game back with a drive and dunk through the Atlanta Hawks defense.

“This partnership is a long time coming,” Elliott said. “Methodist and the Spurs are the two organizations that have meant everything to me.”

Methodist Healthcare became the official healthcare partner for the Spurs and all SS&E franchises on Tuesday, as the Spurs will have access to Methodist’s team of experts, nutritionists, physicians and facilities. Methodist and SS&E will also work together on initiatives to increase the health and wellness of the community.

Methodist Healthcare System is the largest and most preferred system in Central and South Texas, with specialists spanning orthopedics, cardiology, pediatrics, primary care, neurology, oncology and transplant.

Methodist has also partnered with Sports Medicine Associates of San Antonio (SMASA), which is led by Spurs Senior Team Physician David Schmidt.

With Methodist, which provided services to 91,582 inpatients and 428,460 outpatients in 2016, teaming with SMASA, they hope to improve care for all athletes and active individuals in Central and South Texas.

“We think that this is just the beginning,” said Jaime Wesolowski, President and CEO of Methodist Healthcare. “We look forward to being a tremendous partner for the Spurs and their franchises, but we don’t want to stop there. We not only want to improve the health and lifestyles of the citizens in our community, and we also want to make this a destination points for teams and athletes all over the country.”

Elliott’s memories of his transplant and recovery include the 30 pills a day he had to take in the days following the operation and the times he pushed himself close to exhaustion working on conditioning. But the memories he cherishes most are the care of his doctors and nurses at Methodist and the relationships built from a few days in a hospital bed.

There was David Robinson and Avery Johnson making sure they were in the hospital room, visiting when Elliott “still had a bunch of tubes coming out of my body.” Or Tim Duncan and Malik Rose bringing in their laptops and playing Starcraft for hours to help Elliott feel normal again.

And when he was healthy enough to eat solid food again, Elliott brought in enough fajitas for every nurse on the floor.

Elliott’s return to the court had a nationwide effect. A year later, the Department of Health and Human Services reported organ donations from the living had jumped 16 percent. It was the largest year-to-year increase recorded.

 “Without my brother and without Methodist, none of that would be possible,” Elliott said.

“In those situations, you have to have the right care and right conditions. Everything came together for me and I was very fortunate.”

The Spurs’ approach to medical issues has been seeking the right care and right conditions for decades.

In April of 2000, Schmidt performed surgery on Tim Duncan’s left knee to repair a torn lateral meniscus. Duncan hoped to participate in the playoffs despite the injury, but opted for surgery instead. A torn meniscus derailed many careers before Duncan, but Schmidt was able to repair Duncan’s injury and the Spurs training and medical teams would continue to monitor the knee for the next 1,411 regular season and playoff games of Duncan’s career.

Duncan played 16 more seasons, scoring 21,965 more points and winning four more championships with the Spurs.

“When I started 24 years ago, it was me and the athletic trainer, and that was it,” Schmidt said. “The Spurs surrounded us with more science and embraced sports medicine to study rehabilitation, rest, player load and used all the data.”

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford echoed the advantage a partnership with Methodist could provide.

 “The whole medical staff, coaching staff, our training and athlete support staff have all been vital to our players,” Buford said. “We continue to be eager to learn, and Methodist provides that opportunity. It’s very seldom that in the professional sports industry that you get to build this kind of trusting relationship with a group like Methodist.”

For at least one Spurs great, the partnership with Methodist is a lifelong one.