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Jay Cutler's Broken Thumb – A PR Dream Machine for Hand Surgeons!

Ken Gaebler

When Bears quarterback Jay Cutler broke his thumb, most of us in Chicago were thinking (no pun intended): "What a bad break for the Bears!"

Being a twisted PR junkie and practitioner, I thought: "What a great opportunity for the nation's experts on broken hands!"

If you are in the PR biz long enough, and you are decent at it, you get a sixth sense for how events that unfold can be leveraged for PR purposes.Hand Surgeon Expert PR Opportunity: Jay Cutler's Thumb

If you are really good, you anticipate what's possible and are ready for it, or, even better, you get in touch with journalists before the event happens - to let them know your client is available to talk if such and such unlikely event should ever happen.

If you are just good, and not great, you immediately see the PR opportunity just after something happens, and then you move like hell to be the first to reach out to journalists and get your client a good placement.

At our Chicago PR firm, Walker Sands, we don't do any PR work for hand surgeons – far from it, we are a B2B PR firm with a heavy focus on business services and high-tech PR - so Cutler's thumb disaster didn't mean much to us or to our clients, other than being bummed out like most Bears fans were (except for Daniel L., who is a Packers fan - a real one, not just a jump-on-the-band-wagon- wow-they-are-11-and-0-so-I-will-buy-one-of-those-cool-cheese-head-hats fan).

Still, from a PR firm's perspective, it's fun to deconstruct the news about Cutler's thumb and try to deduce which hand surgeons did the best at PR, establishing themselves as experts by getting quoted in the many news stories that ran on this topic.

Here are the doctors and medical facilities that had thumb drive (er, some drive - more bad thumb puns – sorry) to seize their moment in the sun. Whether they did it on their own, or had a PR firm, or just were the beneficiaries of dumb luck (thumb luck?) because a journalist did a Google search and found their name, we'll never know. In any case, here are a few guys (I guess there aren't many female hand surgeons?) who had their fifteen minutes of fame.

Randy Bindra, a hand surgeon at Loyola University Medical Center - In a Chicago Tribune article, Randy discussed the typical recovery process from surgery to repair a Bennett's fracture: "Usually after four weeks, we start gentle exercises, gentle mobilization," Bindra said. "By six-to-eight weeks, one would be able to start gripping and throwing. Typically, it would take three months to get full strength back. It's still tender after four weeks and could easily re-fracture. But the healing process is six weeks."

Mark Cohen, a hand surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush - In another Chicago Tribune article, Cohen gave his theories on the nature of Cutler's thumb injury and its implications for the Bears: "Jay Cutler having the surgery now means the bone is broken and shifted or displaced and is not what they call a stable fracture," said Cohen, a hand surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush. "It's an unstable fracture. On those you can't wait because they'll heal crooked or won't heal properly. The guy had a significant thumb injury and he's got to have the bone fixed so the bone can heal. He has no choices. The doctors have no choices. This is cut-and-dried."

Dr. Leon Benson, Chief of the Division of Hand and Upper Extremity Surgery at NorthShore University HealthSystem - In the same article that mentioned Mark Cohen, Benson asserted his thought leadership on a healthy thumb's role in winning a football game: "Finger and thumb injuries are often underestimated and people think he can walk it off or play with it but there are certain injuries that make it unusable," said Benson. "If his thumb isn't skeletally stable it's impossible to throw. Easily you can have a thumb injury that knocks you out for six to eight weeks."

Dr. Steve Shin, a Los Angeles-based surgeon at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic - Even hand surgeons who are not even in the Chicago area were able to get in on this PR action. In a Chicago Sun-Times blog post, Shin (a funny name for a hand surgeon, don't you think?) added his expertise to the topic: "It all depends on where the fracture is and what kind of fracture," Shin said. Shin said an MRI would only be necessary, if there are concerns of a "ligament avulsion, where the ligament between the thumb and index finger actually tears off."

The bottomline? PR is everywhere. The Bears? They are probably nowhere without their starting QB.

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