Cats WR bounces back from dangerous injury

BRIAN ADAMS HAD SERIOUS HEALTH SCARE

mmaloney@herald-leader.comApril 17, 2010 

Jim Madaleno is director of sports medicine at the University of Kentucky.

To Brian Adams, he is a lifesaver.

A 6-foot-4, 212-pound freshman from Gainesville, Ga., Adams is splitting time between playing baseball for the Wildcats and participating in spring football drills.

"He was a hair from not being with us at all," Coach Joker Phillips said after a recent football practice. "For him to be back out there now, it's amazing."

A quarterback who was recruited to UK as a wide receiver, Adams missed his senior season of high school football with a separated shoulder. But he was ready for baseball season.

Already having helped South Forsyth High School to the state playoffs from 2006 through 2008, the center fielder led his team to the state finals as a senior. Last June, the Cincinnati Reds drafted him in the 45th round.

Adams kept his commitment to UK football, though, and headed to Lexington to join his new teammates.

A change of plans

Around July 4, Adams noticed his right arm was swollen, "but didn't really think much of it."

He went home for a weekend visit. His mother, Karen, and girlfriend, Amanda, both noticed the arm. A trip to an emergency room followed.

"They found a clot in my biceps," he said. "After they found that, they said it wasn't a big deal. I just needed to take some blood thinners for a couple weeks and I'd be all right."

Adams called Madaleno.

As Adams described the symptoms, Madaleno began to suspect a baseball-related injury. Blood clots in throwing shoulders are not uncommon. Coupled with a long playoff drive, followed by intense weight training in Lexington, Madaleno suspected thoracic outlet syndrome.

As Madaleno described it, there is a blood vessel between the first rib and collarbone "that passes between two muscles that act almost like a chip clip you put on to of a chip bag." The bigger the muscles, the tighter the "clip" on the vessel. If clipped too tight, a clot is possible.

Madaleno told Adams to see a thoracic surgeon before returning to Lexington.

"I did not want him coming back up here because, if it is truly a blood clot that they might have missed and he's on blood thinner, then he doesn't have the ability to clot himself," Madaleno said. "So, you get in a car accident coming up here — I mean, that could kill him."

Madaleno told Adams that resuming workouts was not a priority. Madaleno said he would take care of matters with the coaching staff — who, he added, "were great."

About a week later, before he could be seen by a specialist, Adams' back was so painful that he could hardly walk.

His father, Keith, took him to the emergency room. A CAT scan showed that Adams had thrown clots to his lungs and his subclavian vein — the one that Madaleno likened to being "chip clipped."

Adams was sent to thoracic surgeon Dr. Daniel Miller at Emory University in Atlanta.

Miller concurred with Madaleno's concern: thoracic outlet syndrome.

Miller removed Adams' first rib, taking pressure off a "chip clip" muscle and opening the vein. Also, Adams would have to remain on blood thinners for six months.

Good-bye football season.

Not even practice allowed.

"It was tough on him," said Randall Cobb, UK's multi-position dynamo. "He was coming out here every day at practice and trying to do something. They used to tell him, 'No, if you get hit by a ball it could happen again.'"

From baseball playoffs to summer workouts to nothing.

Just stand and watch.

For six months.

That was tough. Adams watched and learned, though, and focused on school.

Clocked at 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, he was listed as the nation's No. 55 quarterback by Scout.com. As a high school junior, he combined for nearly 1,800 yards while passing for six touchdowns and running for six.

Phillips says Adams has the skills to contribute right now. He just needs more practice repetitions. Route-running is new to Adams. But he says he has learned by competing with the likes of Cobb, Chris Matthews and La'Rod King, from watching film of Dicky Lyons Jr., Keenan Burton and others, and from advice offered by his coaches.

"He's what we've been looking for for a few years," Phillips said. "He's big, he's fast, he's got really good ball skills. A good athlete.

"He's playing on our baseball team. ... He's been pinch-running, so for a 6-foot-4 guy to be a pinch-runner, that's amazing within itself. We're counting on him."

Bonus baby

A reserve outfielder, Adams is a UK baseball bonus.

Phillips not only doesn't object to sharing Adams, he encourages it.

"We're a family — the department, not just the football team," Phillips said. "That's one of our selling tools, that we do welcome two-sport athletes."

Adams wasn't allowed to participate in fall baseball for medical reasons. He joined the team shortly before the Feb. 19 season opener.

"That's a tough deal, and he's handled it really well," Gary Henderson, UK's baseball coach, said of Adams' inactivity. "He learns. He pays attention. He observes things. He's a very positive presence in the dugout."

Just as in football, though, lack of practice has held him back. Like most freshmen, Henderson says, hitting is the biggest challenge for now.

Potential, though, is clear.

"He runs extremely well. He's got a good arm. He's got good instincts for the game," Henderson said. "He's real aggressive. ... He absolutely has the skills and the work ethic that if he gets enough repetitions and enough practice time he's got a chance to be in the lineup, no question."

With a 3.96 high school grade-point average, studying is nothing new to Adams. So what did he learn from the past half-year or so?

"I've learned that it can be taken away from you at any time," he said. "So enjoy every second of it and give it your all. God's blessed me with the opportunity to play in the SEC, one of the best conferences in the country, in my opinion. I'm just excited about that. Give every play my best."

Before being cleared to play, Adams was required to get blood work and an OK from his thoracic surgeon.

He repeated the process at UK. "Sort of like a double layer of protection for the kid," Madaleno said.

Credited with saving a life, Madaleno stays humble.

"I don't think it was that," he said. "It was just slowing everybody down. I always like to go by a philosophy of 'the main thing is to always keep the main thing the main thing.' That always makes me focus on 'What are we really trying to have happen?'"

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