|Standout Union City hurler on road to beating ailment |
|As an all-state pitcher for Union City High School’s baseball team, Craig Lowrance has escaped his share of jams. |
If he can somehow get out of his latest trouble spot unscathed, however, runners at first and third with nobody out should be a piece of cake.
Lowrance, a senior and the ace of the Tornado staff the past two years, is attempting to recover from a bout with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome — an ordeal that forced a specialist to surgically remove his top right rib in order to alleviate pressure it was putting on a vein in the shoulder area of his pitching arm that had caused a blood clot.
Dr. Ed Garrett, a vascular surgeon, performed the procedure in Memphis after two attempts to dissolve the clot otherwise were unsuccessful. Lowrance spent 10 days in the hospital during that time, including parts of three days in the intensive care unit.
His loss of 10 pounds and recovery from the mid-November surgery has progressed to where he may do some light throwing soon before it is determined whether or not he possibly needs a bypass operation after a February doctor’s appointment, according to his mother Lynn.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which is not uncommon among baseball players, affects swimmers and tennis players, too. Physicians say multiple overhand types of motion in and around the shoulder area are directly associated with TOS, and there’s a history — according to the medical profession — that it can knock 5-10 miles-per-hour off a pitcher’s fastball.
Former major league pitcher J.R. Richard, once a flame-thrower for the Houston Astros who later died of complications from a stroke, had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
If all goes well, however, Lowrance plans on toeing the rubber again this spring for the Tornadoes after compiling an 11-1 mark with 122 strikeouts and a 1.78 earned run average and hitting a robust .430 as a junior, when he was lauded as an all-stater by the Tennessee Sports Writers Association.
“I’m really not even considering how I’d feel if I couldn’t play,” Lowrance told The Messenger. “I guess I’m stubborn that way, just like my granddaddy (Frank Welch, who died in 1996). My summer league coaches have always said I’ve been a bulldog, and I just think I’ll use that way of thinking so that it’ll make me stronger mentally.”
“I was scared, though, when I first got to the hospital because I knew there was something seriously wrong because of the swelling I had. I know my arm and how to take care of it, and I’ve always done things before to make sure I didn’t over-extend myself.”
Lowrance, who has already verbally committed to junior college national power Walters State in Morristown, first experienced unusual swelling in his throwing arm while warming up in the bullpen for a game with his fall travel team, the Indianapolis Yankees.
He continued to pitch, though, but later encountered massive swelling while performing his regular weight-lifting regiment and simple everyday physical activities. He first sought the advice of local family doctor John Hale, who revealed the likeliness of the blood clot that had probably been there for an extended period, with Union City surgeon Wright Jernigan then correctly diagnosing TOS.
With the removal of the rib that was pressing against Lowrance’s subclavian vein, a regular blood thinner prescription has the normal blood passage “about 90 percent open now,” according to his mother. He has significant scarring of the vein, but has undergone several sessions of physical therapy since the surgery and reported no unusual pain and/or swelling.
Craig — save for some rotator cuff inflamation when he was younger — has never experienced major arm problems before.
Mrs. Lowrance said the removed rib was “three or four inches long” and that doctors had assured the family that her son should and would be able to participate in all normal life activities.
No. 1 on his list is returning to the diamond.
“Not being able to weight train or throw for the last five weeks has been hard to deal with,” said the hard-throwing righty, who has hit 89 miles-per-hour with his fastball while also commanding a sharp-breaking curve. “I guess I just haven’t considered the worst-case scenario. I won’t believe it until it happens.
“I’ve never allowed this to knock my spirits down.”
If he regains the form that earned him the aforementioned past accolades, opposing batters may not be able to say the same.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.