Athletics aids athletes in coverage of surgery costs

Sustaining serious injuries as a UAA athlete can have a serious emotional, physical and financial toll. Cam Amantea, forward right wing on the UAA hockey team, has suffered through a fractured toe and a recurrent shoulder injury. Between both injuries, he has had four surgeries as recent as a month ago.

UAA hockey forward Cam Amantea has had four surgeries over several years for a fractured toe and a recurrent shoulder injury.
UAA hockey forward Cam Amantea has had four surgeries over several years for a fractured toe and a recurrent shoulder injury.

“It’s such a high-impact and high-speed sport, you kind of know what you are getting into, more or less, when you commit to playing hockey at a high level,” Amantea said. “There’s not a lot of guys that I know, at least, that haven’t been injured in some way; like, not surgeries necessarily, but broken bones or stitches or anything like that. It’s just part of the game.”

Amantea said he spends most of his weekdays doing physical therapy for his injuries before his routine hockey training.

“Guys who are hurt obviously have to put in a lot more effort to get back to where they were and better than where they were,” Amantea said.

Last year, UAA paid $127,648.65 to help athletes receive 13 surgeries, according to information obtained through public record requests from Interim Director of Athletics Tim McDiffett.

“The school helped out a lot for everything that’s happened here,” Amantea said. “Stuff from the past, like my first shoulder surgery, the school couldn’t help out just because it happened beforehand… Technically, in a way, they weren’t liable for it.”

Interim Head Athletic Trainer, Rachel Butler, wrote in an email that the athletes she worked with the most this semester are from women’s basketball, gymnastics, cross-country, track and field, alpine and Nordic skiing.

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“Every rehab is different,” Butler wrote. “Often rest (or relative rest) is the first step. Then they progress through exercises to regain functional activities for normal life, then strengthening exercises. Often this is combined with various pain management techniques as well.”

Maria Gudmundsdottir, member of the alpine ski team, suffered a knee injury in May 2016 and has undergone surgeries since then.

“I think when you are in the situation you just do it,” Gudmundsdottir said. “You don’t really have a choice, you just take it day by day. There’s definitely times when it’s hard mentally to be injured, but overall, I don’t even know actually how I do it.”

Gudmundsdottir flew back to home country of Norway for her surgery — which she said was covered by her insurance — but spends two hours a day, six days a week in physical therapy and training.

NCAA rules state that student athletes must have insurance covering athletic-related injuries. That is their primary insurance and the university insurance functions as a secondary source of coverage.

“Medical decisions are ultimately up to the student athlete,” McDiffett wrote in an email. “The insurance just provides a financial resource to the student athlete so they can pursue appropriate medical care. Not every injury requires surgery, in fact, most do not.”

Butler said there are several NCAA rules that dictate which injuries need medical clearance before a student athlete can compete again.

“If a student athlete is a diagnosed concussion, yes, they have to have medical clearance to compete again,” Butler said. “If a student athlete undergoes surgery, then they have to have medical clearance. If a student athlete is undergoing care for certain injuries — such as a sore muscle or mild ankle sprain — the athletic trainers work closely with the coaching staff to progress the student athlete back to sport as the athlete tolerates.”

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Photo credit: Levi Brown

For the 2015-2016 academic year, the university helped pay for 10 surgeries.