(The Shore Ortho Doctor Series is in partnership with Shore Orthopaedic University Associates and aims to give our fans a more up-close and personal look at the doctors who make Shore Ortho one of the leading orthopaedic associations in the region.)
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
It’s probably fitting that Dr. Ted Lai went to Absegami High, a school long known for its outstanding wrestling program, considering the kind of wrestler he’s become. At home. After dinner. With his four boys who are all age 7 or younger.
Back when he was a high school student in the early 2000s, Lai played a lot of volleyball and hockey. Now, as a 38-year-old father of four, his exercise consists mainly of chasing toddlers around, heading out to youth baseball games, and, of course, some tomfoolery in the living room sometimes before the youngsters settle down and get ready for bed.
It’s a busy life, but Lai said he wouldn’t have it any other way. His wife, Alicia, also works as a doctor, in Linwood. Together they are raising boys ages 7, 5, 3 and 1.
“It’s definitely tough, but we have great support. (Alicia) works more of a part-time schedule, so that helps. We just try to divide and conquer. I try to make all their baseball games and practices. That’s one thing our group does is — yes, our No. 1 priority is treating our patients — but also make it work so that we can still have a good family environment, because that’s very important,” said Lai, a board certified foot and ankle surgeon at Shore Orthopaedic University Associates, which has locations in Somers Point, Galloway, Cape May Court House and Manahawkin. “The schedule is our biggest challenge. Our boys are still young, but they’re starting to get into sports. My 7- and 5-year-olds just finished machine-pitch baseball and this was their first time playing baseball. I’m not a huge baseball fan, but it was awesome to watch them play. They are also doing Jiu Jitsu, so it gets very busy for us. We just try to get by. It’s hard to imagine having four kids, but when they’re here you just go with it.”
Lai (pronounced LIE) claims he was an average student at Absegami, but perhaps he’s just being humble. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry-Biology from West Chester University in Pennsylvania then earned his medical degree from the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine, graduating with honors in 2013. He completed surgical training at Aria-Jefferson Health Systems in Philadelphia and completed a surgical fellowship in Pittsburgh. He specializes in trauma and reconstructive surgery, as well as deformity correction of the lower extremity.
“I was kind of a middle-of-the-road student at Gami, nothing crazy,” he said. “I was in some honors classes. I was kind of a wallflower, I guess. It was sad when I graduated because I had a great group of friends, but I was already in that mindset of, ‘let’s move on now.’ My days in high school were spent at the beach, surfing and playing volleyball, and playing hockey.
“Something just clicked for me — how to treat problems, whether it’s surgery or major reconstruction. That’s what really got me, I like to use my hands and repair things, and that’s kind of what you’re doing in the operating room. You’re using drills, screws, plates, putting things back together. For me, it clicked and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Lai said foot and ankle injuries can be very tricky, and sometimes it’s not always easy to tell a high school athlete that their season or playing career might be over due to a particular injury. Lai said, however, that he tries his best every time to get athletes back to their sport because he knows how fleeting a high school career can be.
“A lot of high school athletes, the majority of what I see are ankle sprains from basketball, football. We see some Achilles tendon ruptures — not as much of that in the younger population — but we also see ankle fractures, mid-foot sprains, some turf toe here and there. Those are the majority of the injuries (for high school athletes),” Dr. Lai said. “The majority of the high school athletes are like, ‘I can’t miss this game, it’s a big game coming up,’ or, ‘this is my last year.’ I have my protocol on what time it’s going to take to heal and what needs to be done, but I have to keep that in my mind. Is it healed enough to get the athlete back and playing? If so, I will and will try to accelerate things. I’m a little bit flexible in my protocol as long as it’s not going to hurt the athlete and they are OK with it. But with a lot of them, I try to make sure we’re not going to be doing them any harm. With my examinations, I’m pretty thorough. Some will say, ‘Doc, I really feel fine, I want to play.’ But I don’t look at their foot, I look at their eyes and see if they are wincing or not. If they are, they are still having issues. If there are no issues, we’ll try to push them a little and see what we can do.”
Dr. Lai said the worst injuries he sees are the ones that happen in the mid-foot area. Those can sometimes be career ending.
“With broken ankles, and similarly with Achilles tendon injuries, kids seem to do well. It’s the mid-foot sprains or fractures — those are the game-changing injuries. Those are the injuries that, when you’re watching the NFL, you see the linemen in that scrum and somebody lands on their foot. That can blow out the ligament in their foot or fracture it,” he said. “There are only a few injuries with the foot and ankle where I tell people, ‘this is a life-changing injury.’ For sports, the Lisfranc (a dislocation in the mid-foot area) is one of them. The other is the calcaneal heel fracture. Alshon Jeffrey had (the Lisfranc) when he was with the Eagles and never returned to form. Those are really bad injuries.
“Achilles tendon injuries, for the most part they do well,” he continued. “That’s usually about a five-month recovery. For pro athletes, that can be a one-year recovery just because of the level they play at. And even at that level, their play isn’t optimal until maybe another year after that.”
High school athletes who suffer foot or ankle injuries can expect to see Dr. Lai around for a long time, as the Galloway native is committed to serving his local communities for a long time to come. After being in Pittsburgh for several years, he’s back home — and loving it.
“I’m happy with where I am, I’m back in my hometown, I’m with a great group of doctors. I plan to just keep working, keep treating more and more people and continue to be a part of this community,” Dr. Lai said. “I’d love to help in any way with the foot and ankle surgical world and help push the science to advance that. I want to help with studies and literature. When you come from high level training, you’re at the forefront of pushing the envelope, and that’s where I want to be.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays