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Orthopaedic surgery turns patient into a believer

Douglas Mason’s bicep is as good as new after minimally invasive tendon repair. 

During a playful arm-wrestling match, 50-year-old Douglas Mason tore a tendon in his right bicep.

“I heard and felt a big pop and felt the pain,” says Mr. Mason, who lives in Warriors Mark in Huntingdon County.  “It turned black and blue clear up to my shoulder.”

A doctor told him he could lose some mobility in his arm if he didn’t have surgery. As an avid hunter and fisherman, Mr. Mason worried that his injury might keep him from doing what he loved. But he had reservations about surgery, too.

Finding the right partner in orthopaedic care

Mr. Mason was referred to Nigel Sparks, MD, a Geisinger orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine.

“At first, I was skeptical of having surgery,” Mr. Mason says. “But I liked Dr. Sparks because he was blunt and straight up. He was very thorough answering all my questions.”

Dr. Sparks performed minimally invasive outpatient surgery to repair the tendon, and looking back, Mr. Mason is glad he had it. Now his bicep is as good as new. 

“Everything went very smoothly,” he says. 

But when his care continued beyond the surgery, Mr. Mason was even more impressed. Dr. Sparks kept an eye on his physical therapy afterward, making sure he had the right therapist for his type of injury.

“To me, that meant this man cared for me — he cared for my personal health,” says Mr. Mason.

Treating from experience

Dr. Sparks, who joined Geisinger at State College and Lewistown in 2022, knows what it’s like to have an injury that disrupts your daily activities. As a former pro soccer player and All-American Penn State athlete, he had broken bones and underwent two surgeries.

“Having those injuries and understanding what recovery involves helps me motivate my patients and tell them what their recovery is going to be like,” Dr. Sparks says. “I’m very focused on rehabilitation after surgeries, and I think I give my patients insight on what to expect.”

Dr. Sparks specializes in treating ligament, tendon and cartilage injuries. 

“I consider myself a soft tissue orthopaedic surgeon,” he says. “I work on problems around the bones as opposed to the bones themselves. Most of the cases I do are arthroscopic. We do the surgery though small incisions.”

He sees a range of patients, from young athletes with knee ligament injuries to people in their 80s with shoulder problems.

Caring for the person as a whole

People often think sports medicine is all about athletes, but most injuries don’t happen while playing sports, Dr. Sparks says.

“If you’re out gardening and you develop pain in your elbow, that’s really a sports injury. If you walk the dog every day and your knee starts to bother you, that tends to be a sports injury,” he explains. “It’s repetitive trauma to the joint or tendon or ligament that requires my attention.”

Dr. Sparks is well-versed in how athletes challenge their bodies, having played soccer for Penn State and the Canadian Olympic Soccer Team, as well as professionally for the Toronto Blizzard and Philadelphia Freedom.

Since then, he’s applied his knowledge as team physician for professional sports teams, including the Seattle Sounders (soccer), Jacksonville Jaguars (football) and Jacksonville Giants (basketball).

“I played as a professional and then I took care of professionals. I got to see it from both sides,” says Dr. Sparks. “Being on the sidelines as a team physician, I saw what’s involved in care. It’s not just about the injury itself, but how it affects the person as a whole.”

Next steps:

Read and watch more stories
Learn about sports medicine at Geisinger
See how minimally invasive spine surgery gave a patient her life back

Douglas Mason next to a creek
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