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Darlington High School senior Gatlin Hancock is looking forward to his freshman year at Kennesaw State University — in large part because he’ll be taking a giant step forward in his football career to play for the Owls. But were it not for the intervention of a skilled team of physical therapists, Hancock’s days as an offensive lineman might have come to an abrupt end.

In fact, the team at AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab Rome was able to keep Hancock fighting in the trenches his entire senior year, despite a torn labrum that had contributed to multiple shoulder dislocations beginning his sophomore season.

“I had to decide whether I should have surgery or do rehab first and continue playing football,” Hancock said. “I chose to do rehab with Sean Proctor and his team. I worked with them for three months, and they were awesome throughout the whole process. I went through my senior season playing with a torn labrum, but I started picking up scholarship offers to play at the next level.”

Between his physical therapy regimen and a protective shoulder brace, Hancock was able to stay competitive until inking his commitment to Kennesaw State and ultimately having surgery to repair his shoulder in December 2022. He continued working with Proctor twice weekly at AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab Rome following the procedure, and he expects to be back to full strength by May — just in time for summer training.

“It’s been a blessing to have Sean on my team,” Hancock said. “He’s been more than a trainer; he’s been like a mentor and a friend. If something’s going wrong, he’s very adaptive to my circumstances. One time, I told him my back was aching, so he spent more time focusing on that because he cares more about my wellbeing than what he needs to get done.”

While sports-related injuries like Hancock’s are firmly within the wheelhouse of the therapists at AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab Rome and AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab Cedartown, both locations offer a comprehensive slate of rehab services. In a field that is becoming increasingly specialized, AdventHealth’s sports medicine and rehab clinics deliver everything from cardiac and industrial rehabilitation to occupational and speech therapy. Treatments are available on both an in- and outpatient basis.

“Our clinics are branded as sports medicine, but once you get inside the doors, we have therapies for all kinds of patients,” explained John Crowley, director of rehabilitation services at AdventHealth Redmond. “We see people dealing with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders, and we have a specialized oncology rehab program. There is only a handful of places in the country that can do that. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are hard on the body, but rehab helps people feel better.”

The AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab team is qualified to address a number of issues stemming from the impact of cancer and its treatments. For example, 44 percent of women with breast cancer experience shoulder restrictions. Other therapies can help mitigate side effects like lymphedema and severe constipation, which can be associated with the treatment of pelvic and lower GI cancers. Also, many cancer-fighting drugs are toxic to the heart muscle, and too much exercise can exacerbate the situation. Modeling protocols developed by a pioneering oncology rehab program in Denver, Colorado, AdventHealth utilizes programs that minimize those risks.

Those suffering from Parkinson’s disease benefit from a multidisciplinary approach to rehabilitation. Such patients typically require a combination of physical, occupational and speech therapies, and AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab can provide all those services in one place. Three therapists are dedicated to neurological rehab alone.

“We help Parkinson’s patients achieve and maintain higher levels of function,” Crowley explained. “Our program is based on neuroplasticity, which helps the brain make newer and stronger connections. We’ve seen patients roll into therapy in a wheelchair and eventually return to walking and other activities. Our therapists know how to unlock their capabilities.”

Speech therapy in particular is an important tool in helping patients overcome speech and language issues stemming from other conditions besides Parkinson’s disease. Those dealing with cerebral palsy, cleft palates, hearing loss, stroke and difficulties in swallowing can regain function by working with AdventHealth’s team of speech pathologists, all of whom have been certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

“Our Parkinson’s program has exploded in the last five to six years,” said Jay Martin, rehab manager at AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab. “Northwest Georgia has so many people walking around with diagnosed and undiagnosed Parkinson’s. Without therapy, many of our patients would have passed away years ago. Our goal is to improve their quality of life.”

Other areas of rehabilitation available at AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab include vestibular treatment for vertigo and dizziness, hand therapy and a COVID-19 program that has achieved good results with those dealing with long-haul cases. The rehab team also specializes in pelvic-floor therapy, which can help both post-partum mothers and geriatric patients deal with issues like incontinence.

Although approximately 20 to 25 percent of cases handled at AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab are orthopedic in nature (and an even smaller percentage that is sports-related), that field of rehabilitation services is still a key component of what the clinics have to offer. Many patients nearing retirement age are recipients of total hip and knee replacements, while weekend warriors of all ages may seek treatment for repetitive use and explosive injuries.

“We have a very athletic community here,” Martin said. “It’s a big golf and tennis community for middle-agers and seniors, plus we have two colleges and all the high schools. From an orthopedic standpoint, we see a lot of things like meniscus and labrum tears, ruptured biceps, rotator cuff and ACL injuries.”

According to Crowley, his department is also starting to prescribe more “prehab” therapy, which patients undergo before surgery to put themselves in a stronger position following the procedure.

“Research shows that prehab leads to quicker and less painful recoveries,” he said.

Although AdventHealth Redmond has been providing sports medicine and rehab therapies for years, the program continues to expand and focus its offerings based on the needs of the Rome community and the rest of the Northwest Georgia region.

“It’s been a seamless transition for us since AdventHealth took ownership in October 2021,” said Sean Proctor, PT, MS, physical therapist at AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab Rome, who was Hancock’s physical therapist. “We’ve been adapting our programs to meet the vision that AdventHealth has for the Rome community.”

Proctor adds that since he began working at AdventHealth Redmond nine years ago, his department has grown by approximately 30 percent.

"That’s remarkable in this industry and a testament to a great program,” he said. “We get a lot of support from the hospital, which allows us to offer diverse service lines. Plus, AdventHealth is becoming entrenched in the community, giving us more opportunities to be seen.” He cites programs such as running clinics and tennis camps as examples of ways the company has been able to connect with citizens.

“Our main job may be physical, but the biggest things we do are emotional, spiritual and motivational,” Proctor added. “AdventHealth encourages whole-person health, and therapy is just one aspect of helping someone get well.”

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