August 24, 2020
Growing up in Olathe, Kansas, CJ Callaghan was a multi-sport athlete, competing in football, basketball, swimming and track and field. He went on to play multiple sports at Shawnee Mission West High School, including football as the starting quarterback. His father, Tim Callaghan, was head coach. In week 3 of his senior season vs. Olathe North, late in the 3rd quarter, CJ was scrambling out of the pocket. "My foot had been sore after practice during that week," Callaghan says, "but when I planted my foot and got tackled, it felt like someone hit my foot."
Ready on the sidelines was Joe Luzenski, certified athletic trainer at Shawnee Mission West. Luzenski works for The University of Kansas Health System, the sports medicine and athletic training provider of Shawnee Mission School District. The health system provides athletic trainers for the district’s high schools and middle schools.
Luzenski assessed CJ's foot.
"There’s a tendon that attaches to the end of the bone right where CJ was indicating his pain," Luzenski says. "He was point tender on that spot on the side of his foot. I was worried he may have twisted his foot or ankle while stepping awkwardly and detached the peroneal tendon from the base of that bone."
Luzenski taped up CJ's foot and advised him not to play any longer that night. "But I wanted to give it a try," says CJ, who played into the 4th quarter until he had to stop due to the pain. After the game, he had trouble walking to the car.
Diagnosis at the sports medicine walk-in clinic
CJ's foot felt worse the next morning – which was Saturday – so he went to see Luzenski in the school's athletic training room while the rest of his team watched film. Luzenski recalls, "I wanted CJ to get some X-rays of his foot. Proper management of a bone injury in that area is critical due to its poor blood supply. A delay in intervention can result in an unfavorable outcome."
CJ went to the Saturday morning walk-in clinic at The University of Kansas Health System Sports Medicine and Performance Center at I-435 and Nall. There, the sports medicine team treats athletes of all ages year-round, and in the fall offers a Saturday morning walk-in clinic from 8-11 a.m. for sports injuries in need of urgent care.
"It was busy, but it didn’t take very long," CJ says. "They X-rayed my foot, put me in a boot and crutches, and made a follow-up appointment with Dr. Bryan Vopat." Bryan Vopat, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at the health system.
Dr. Vopat stresses that the Saturday morning walk-in clinic provides important benefits for injured athletes like CJ. "We want to rule out serious injuries, where athletes can do more damage if they continue to play. With minor injuries, we can make a plan, see them during the week in clinic, and in some cases, they can return to play for the next game."
Dr. Vopat diagnosed CJ with a Jones fracture, a type of stress fracture, in his right foot. "A Jones fracture can compromise the blood supply and be difficult to heal. We recommend surgery, especially for athletes, to decrease the time off and get them back to sports quicker.
"When athletes are training, they can get an early stress reaction that becomes a complete stress fracture while playing," Dr. Vopat says. "We see this injury a lot, including in pro athletes at the NFL Combine."
Despite needing surgery, CJ was happy to have a plan. "Dr. Vopat told me how it was going to be. He told me to keep the end goal in mind. He talked me through it and kept encouraging me," CJ says. He wanted to make it back for his senior basketball season and was still deciding where to play college football.
After successful surgery, CJ had physical therapy at the Sports Medicine and Performance Center in Overland Park with Kyle Veazey, PT, DPT.
We want to rule out serious injuries, where athletes can do more damage if they continue to play. With minor injuries, we can make a plan, see them during the week in clinic, and in some cases, they can return to play for the next game. – Bryan Vopat, MDOrthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist
Physical therapy and return to play
"A foot injury affects the entire lower body, so it’s always important to check the knee, hip and back to help an athlete fully recover and move better," says Veazey. "CJ is a great athlete and an awesome guy. He showed up on day 1 for his evaluation with a positive attitude, always brought energy and worked really hard."
From CJ's point of view, it wasn't all hard work, "Kyle made physical therapy fun."
With his positive attitude and hard work, CJ met his timeline, "I was injured in September, had surgery in October and started physical therapy in November. I finished before Christmas."
Back at Shawnee Mission West, and working with athletic trainer Luzenski again, CJ was able to return for his senior basketball season. He also went to Washburn for a football recruiting visit, which included a workout. "I was able to do all the drills and felt Washburn was a good fit," he says. "I want to try QB in college, but I've also talked about playing tight end, like Travis Kelce (of the Chiefs)."
CJ's dad and football coach appreciated everyone on the care team – athletic trainer, walk-in clinic staff, doctor and therapist. "As a parent, my questions were, 'Would there be a possibility for a full recovery?' and 'How much more of his senior year would he miss?' It was nice knowing we didn’t have to explain the details to the care team over and over. They all seemed caught up on the situation."
Dr. Vopat also understands the importance of working together. "I get email, calls and texts from physical therapists and athletic trainers every day," he says. "They reach out to me directly as athletes are returning to sport, and we discuss where that athlete should be, how hard to push the athlete and any setbacks. We don't have to wait until the next office visit to get an update or make adjustments."
Although CJ's injury derailed his senior year, his attitude, hard work and receiving care from the same experts who care for the Chiefs helped him get back on the court and field. "I learned to make the best of the situation," he says. "Everything happens for a reason, but it's up to you how you deal with it. So, if you get injured, try not to get so down and doubt yourself. Be positive and think why it happened. All the long days of pain and hard work will pay off."