A complication in the emergency room could have sidelined teenager Marco Ferrier from athletics.Thankfully, his family trusted their instincts and looked for another opinion. Today, Ferrier is training twice a day, completing collegiate triathlons throughout the United States, and loving his life as a freshman at the University of Colorado Boulder.
In summer 2021, Ferrier, then 16, was riding his bike in Houston and took a corner too quickly. His tire slipped, which threw him to the ground. Ferrier braced himself by putting his hand out to catch the fall. He didn’t think he broke anything, but it hurt to grip the bike handlebars, so he walked home.
“My mom took me to the emergency room that night, and they said nothing was broken. It was just really swollen,” Ferrier said. “So, we were pretty happy. We later found out I had multiple fractures.”
Ferrier still couldn’t move his thumb or much of his hand a few days after his fall. Ferrier’s family knew Courtney J. Amor, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, so his mom scheduled an appointment with him. Amor found Ferrier’s hand swollen and bruised, with limited mobility. After looking at X-rays, Amor discovered Ferrier had three fractures in his hand and wrist. The most severe was a Bennett fracture, which makes the base of the thumb unstable.
“In Ferrier’s case, the findings were subtle and could be overlooked, if not evaluated by a specialist. A Bennett fracture requires surgery because the basilar joint of the thumb is unstable. We realigned the bones, and used pins and screws to keep them in place so they would heal correctly,” said Amor, an orthopedic surgeon with UT Physicians.
Amor completed Ferrier’s surgery just days after his first appointment, which is an important consideration in his medical practice. He tries to get patients with a fracture in for surgery within a week of the injury for the best possible healing. It also aligned with Ferrier’s schedule, since he was planning to attend a cross-country running camp in Montana the following week.
“Displaced fractures will start to heal in a bad position after three to four weeks — and may get to the point where they are irreparable,” Amor said. “We want to avoid that whenever possible. This is especially important in athletes because any amount of time away from training can really impact their performance.” Amor speaks from a position of understanding the struggles Ferrier faced, as he is an experienced triathlete and marathon runner himself.
Ferrier’s case with an intra-articular fracture (one that extends into the joint cartilage) is always challenging, Amor explained, because there is little margin for error. Bones need to be aligned perfectly to heal correctly and can lead to early-onset arthritis if they are just a millimeter or two off.
“For a 16-year-old patient, that can be a major problem, for which there are no easy solutions,” Amor said. “So, it’s best to prevent it to begin with.”
Ferrier also had other small fractures in his carpal (wrist) bones, but CT scans revealed they weren’t bad enough to need pins.
“Ferrier’s surgery allowed him to get back to being a great athlete — and quickly,” Amor said. “If he did not have his thumb fixed, he probably would have had trouble gripping handlebars on a bike, for example, and would have had trouble becoming a triathlete. His thumb would never be the same again.”
These days, Ferrier says he’s definitely more cautious taking corners on his bike. His triathlon teammates tease him, but he’s still as competitive as ever. Ferrier earned second place in his age group at his first collegiate triathlon in October 2023, the Pumpkinman Triathlon in Las Vegas. This required a 1500-meter swim, 24.8-mile cycle, and 6.2-mile run. Ferrier finished strong in just under three hours.
What Ferrier is most proud of as an athlete is his training work ethic.
“I love waking up early and just getting a good workout in before the sun comes up,” Ferrier said. “It’s one of my favorite things. Just to say you’ve accomplished something in the morning before your day has even started. I love working out.”
While Amor is pleased that surgery helped Ferrier and his athletic dreams, he said Ferrier’s success is all due to his motivation and hard work.
“Seeing positive outcomes like this is why I enjoy my job,” Amor said. “It makes all the years of medical training worthwhile.”
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