Physician Teamwork Scores a Win for Former Pro Baseball Star

From Fort Sanders Regional Health & Lifestyles

After a rewarding career in professional baseball, Ty Taubenheim, 38, was ready to step off the pitcher’s mound and follow a new path. He chose the field of nursing and began his career with his first job as an emergency department nurse at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville in 2016.

As a former pro athlete, Ty wasn’t used to being sidelined from physical activity.

At the time, Taubenheim had no idea he would later make multiple trips to the hospital as a patient. He didn’t know it would one day take the ingenuity and teamwork of two Fort Sanders Regional physicians to unravel a mystery of pain.

The Fall that Started It All

When Taubenheim crashed his mountain bike at Haw Ridge in Anderson County in 2019, it didn’t seem like anything worth worrying about. “It wasn’t the worst fall I’ve had by any stretch of the imagination,” he says. “I’ve had worse falls that I’ve walked away from.”

But a couple of days after the accident, Taubenheim began experiencing intense pain in his abdomen and groin area. He first thought it might be a kidney stone.

A CT scan at Fort Sanders Regional revealed something unusual. Blood was pooled in a cavity near a muscle that was close to Taubenheim’s spine. There was no clear reason for the blood to be there, but it was clear that he was in pain.

Taubenheim was hospitalized and the blood was drained. He returned to his active lifestyle, but six months later the pain was back.

“It became unbearable,” he says. “I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t move, I was sick – and because the first incident was such a fluke, I didn’t even piece together that it could possibly be a recurrence.”

Taubenheim went back to the hospital thinking he’d hurt himself during a workout. Again, there was a CT scan. Again, he was hospitalized and blood was drained from the abscess near his spine.

Three months later when it happened again, something appeared on the CT scan that would prove to be the key to Taubenheim’s healing.

A foreign object was captured in the image. “They saw it on one slide but didn’t see it on another,” Taubenheim says. “They didn’t really know what it was and what sort of implication it had.”

Taubenheim returned home, but in just a few months he was back. Every time it was the same. Taubenheim was discouraged, frustrated and desperate. The pain was bad enough, but every episode caused fresh upheaval in his life and in the lives of everyone he cared about.

A Creative Approach
Joe Thurman, MD - Premier Surgical TN

Dr. Joe Thurman, General Surgeon

The solution finally came from two physicians working together to break new ground. First, Taubenheim consulted with Fort Sanders Regional general surgeon Joseph Thurman, MD, of Premier Surgical, whom he knew from his time spent working in the hospital’s ER.

“He’d been seen by multiple  surgeons and no one really had any good options or ideas, myself included,” Dr. Thurman says.

“His quality of life was declining,” Dr. Thurman says. “This had impacted his quality of life so much that he was not the same guy he had been a year ago.”

Finding relief and answers wouldn’t be easy. Dr. Thurman explained that exploratory surgery would carry some risks.

Looking for a creative option, Dr. Thurman connected with Andrew Conrad, MD, an interventional radiologist at Fort Sanders Regional. The two physicians reviewed the CT scans and devised a plan.

Instead of going in through Taubenheim’s back and near the spine, they determined Dr. Thurman could try performing surgery going in from the front of the body with Dr. Conrad providing a well-timed drain.

“This collaborative approach allowed Dr. Thurman and I to achieve the kind of clinical and technical result that would have been very difficult otherwise, says Dr. Conrad.”

With the same technique used for kidney transplants, Dr. Thurman could go around the abdomen and follow Dr. Conrad’s drain directly to the source of the problem.

“We were able to get down to the muscle on top of the drain without destroying the rest of the muscle to get there,” Dr. Thurman says.

Dr. Thurman cleaned the abscess and discovered a small stone that had made its way into Taubenheim’s muscle. The stone was removed and Taubenheim recovered.

Problem Solved

Ty is back on the trail after surgery resolved his painful episodes.

The origin of the pain-inducing stone will always be a mystery, but Dr. Thurman believes it may have been something from a
past appendectomy, jarred into a painful place when Taubenheim’s mountain bike crashed.

It took some creative coordination and thought from Dr. Conrad and I trying to tag team, knowing what the ultimate goal was,” says Dr. Thurman.

That ultimate goal was prioritizing the patient’s quality of life. Colleagues Dr. Thurman and Dr. Conrad share credit for the success of the procedure.

Today, Taubenheim is enjoying an active, athletic lifestyle again. He’s grateful for that, but he’s just as thankful for the improvement in his mental and emotional health.  “That’s really been the most priceless thing about this process. I got my life back!

For more information about Dr. Thurman or the Premier Surgical team at Fort Sanders Regional, call (865) 524-3695.

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