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NLL's Grant Jr. sympathizes with Clippers' Griffin after staph infection surgery

02/10/2015 11:50 EST | Updated 04/12/2015 05:59 EDT
National Lacrosse League star John Grant Jr. has nothing but sympathy for Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin.

Griffin had surgery Monday to remove a staph infection from his elbow, a procedure that will leave him sidelined for at least three weeks. Grant had the same procedure in 2009, but unfortunately for the Colorado Mammoth forward, it went horribly awry.

Both athletes suffer from elbow bursitis, an ailment that requires fluid be drained from the joint before rigorous activity. Griffin had fluid drained from his right elbow on Feb. 2, when the Clippers were in New York to play the Brooklyn Nets. He wore a compression sleeve in games after the procedure.

In Grant's experience, the arm pad he wore during games contributed to the infection.

"I was getting it drained before the game so I could put the pad on," said Grant, a native of Peterborough, Ont., who now lives in Denver. "That's one of the things you worry about, so we tried to monitor it for symptoms like redness and heat, but once it came on it was too late."

Grant's experience with staph is a cautionary tale.

By the time Grant was hospitalized in 2009, the bacteria had gone septic, entering his blood stream and spreading throughout his body. Like Griffin, Grant had surgery on the initial infection point. Every day for the next week doctors would re-open the incision, clean the wound and insert clean gauze. A rigorous antibiotic program helped Grant fight the infection throughout his body, but one of his knees remained infected, baffling doctors.

"After scoping it out twice, ... they were like 'He's not responding to the antibiotics,' so they thought this was potentially fatal," said Grant. "Then once they thought they'd localized it to the leg only, after the antibiotics were cleaning it out everywhere else, they were going to have to lop the leg off."

After four days of examination — with Grant too groggy from medication to articulate himself to medical staff — it became apparent that the problem was that his ACL had been replaced with a ligament from a cadaver in an earlier operation. The infection turned that ligament to mush, with antibiotics unable to save the dead tissue. Doctors removed the cadaverous ligament from Grant's knee and drilled out the screws in his bones, being careful to remove any remaining infected tissue.

Grant spent over a month in hospital and required daily antibiotics for five months, carrying an IV bag in a fanny pack. Early in his rehabilitation he was told he'd never walk again, later he was told he'd never play lacrosse again. Eight months after entering hospital, Grant was on the field helping the Toronto Nationals win the 2009 Major League Lacrosse championship.

Although there's no indication that Griffin's infection has spread beyond his elbow, he is just as vulnerable as Grant. The 25-year-old all-star forward had a stress fracture in his left kneecap that eventually required surgery, forcing him to miss the entire 2009-10 NBA season. In July 2012, he had surgery on that same knee to repair a torn medial meniscus. Both operations would require the use of screws, wires or sutures.

"Any foreign body is much more likely to be seeded by a septic episode, much more likely for the bacterium to grow there," said Dr. Mary Vearncombe, the medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. "Anything that is put into a joint, any kind of prosthetic of any type, will make you at higher risk."

The 40-year-old Grant continues to play professionally, both in field and indoor lacrosse leagues. He also represented Canada at the 2010 world lacrosse championships and the 2011 world indoor lacrosse championships.

"It bothers me to walk," said Grant, who did not have a new ligament put in his leg. "I've got the knee of an 80 year old. I just do everything I can to be able to play.

"I've been playing on borrowed time for years. I'm enjoying every chance I get to get out there and compete."

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