Louisville guard who broke leg could be playing again in less than a year

(CNN) — As awful as Louisville guard Kevin Ware’s leg injury appeared during Sunday night’s Elite Eight game against Duke, Ware could be back on the court in six months to a year, an orthopedic surgeon says.

Fans across America averted their eyes in horror Sunday night as Ware, 20, came down wrong on his leg, causing a gruesome break. His right tibia, or shinbone, broke through the skin in what’s called an open or compound fracture.

Open fractures often cause damage to the surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

“This type of fracture is particularly serious because once the skin is broken, infection both the wound and the bone can occur,” the academy’s website states.

Ware was immediately taken to an Indianapolis hospital. In a two-hour surgery, his bone was reset and a rod inserted into his tibia, according to a statement from Kenneth Klein, senior associate athletic director for media relations at the University of Louisville.

That’s typical procedure for this kind of injury, says orthopedic surgeon Dr. Fred Azar of Memphis, who is not involved in Ware’s care. After the wound is washed out, doctors address any tears in the surrounding tissue. Then a steel or titanium rod is placed inside the hollow leg bone to reconnect it where it broke. After surgery, Azar places his patients on antibiotics to lower the risk of infection.

Although the fracture looked extraordinary, Azar says, he sees it all the time in his practice.

Open fractures are usually the result of a “high-energy” trauma, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Saul Kaplan of Springfield, Virginia, says Ware may have twisted his leg as he landed, causing the bone to snap. Kaplan — who also is not involved in Ware’s care — said it’s also possible Ware had a benign bone tumor that weakened the tibia before his fall.

If there is no nerve damage, Kaplan says, doctors will probably get Ware up and moving the day after surgery. And with intensive daily physical therapy, he could be back on the basketball court in six months to a year.

Of course, with serious injuries comes the risk of serious complications, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The three most common complications for open fractures are infection, difficulty healing and a condition called acute compartment syndrome.

That develops when pressure builds in the muscles surrounding the injury; it’s painful and can cause tissue death if the pressure is not relieved, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website.

If Ware’s leg doesn’t heal properly, he may need more surgery.

Before leaving the court Sunday night, Ware reportedly told his teammates to focus on winning.

A photo posted on the Internet shows his jubilant teammates holding up Ware’s jersey as they celebrate their win. Another showed Ware in his hospital bed, holding the trophy his teammates brought to him.

“Ware will remain in Indianapolis until at least Tuesday, when he is hopeful to return to Louisville and then join the Cardinals as they advance to the NCAA Final Four in Atlanta,” Klein said.

The Louisville Cardinals take on the Wichita State Shockers at 6:05 p.m. ET on Saturday.

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