The announcement that Mayo Clinic soon will have a major, visible presence in the heart of downtown Minneapolis is a big deal. A very, very big deal.
This isn't a few Mayo Clinic employees asking health questions to kids outside Target Field on game day, then giving them baseballs that bear the Mayo logo. Nor will it be anything like the short-lived "Healthy Living" outpost at the Mall of America, where people could purchase Mayo-labeled clothing and learn more about the services the clinic has to offer.
Make no mistake: With the announcement that the long-troubled Block E in Minneapolis will be renamed Mayo Clinic Square, the clinic officially has arrived in the Twin Cities. Granted, the whole of Block E won't be Mayo territory. The clinic's new sports medicine clinic will rub elbows with restaurants and training/practice facilities for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx. But the Mayo "brand" will figure prominently in a modern, sophisticated environment that will be seen by hundreds of thousands of people annually — perhaps millions — in this high-traffic area of downtown Minneapolis.
But what does this development mean to the average Joe, to those of us who aren't elite athletes and who don't have children who are on the fast track to stardom on the basketball court, football field or baseball diamond?
That's a fair question. Only a small percentage of us will require the services of a sports medicine/training facility along the lines of what Mayo will create in Minneapolis — or the one Mayo already is creating in Rochester, with an expected opening date of May 1. It will be easy, then, to see the glitz and polish of these new centers and think, "Well, that's nice for wealthy athletes, but it doesn't do anything for me."
Perhaps not today, or even tomorrow. But over the long term, the services that are provided at Mayo's sports medicine facilities will translate into better care and improved quality of life for people whose most athletic activity is bringing in groceries or walking the dog.
Young, healthy athletes who suffer injuries can play an important role in improving medical techniques and technology. They recover more quickly from surgery than the general population, work harder in rehab and are willing to test the body's limits. Their successes and setbacks are highly instructive, and the knowledge that doctors glean from their work with athletes eventually trickles down into the general population.
Consider the example of Dr. Frank Jobe, who in 1974 performed experimental surgery on Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John, a 31-year-old with 124 career wins — and an elbow that was worn out.
After ligament-replacement surgery, John won another 164 games and pitched until he was 46.
Today, so-called "Tommy John surgery" is almost routine, with thousands of high school, college and professional players having their playing days extended for years, even decades.
But Jobe didn't merely change baseball. His pioneering efforts in surgical techniques for athletes played a role in the growth of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in California, which through its fellowship programs has helped train hundreds of doctors while treating thousands of patients for a variety of orthopedic injuries and conditions — some sports-related, some not.
Who knows? The next big breakthrough in orthopedic medicine might very well take place at Mayo's new sports medicine centers in Minneapolis and Rochester.