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  Sun, January 25, 2004


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Todd's tough choice
Going under knife last resort to salvage basketball career

By PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

We knew Todd MacCulloch was at a crossroads. That's what he told The Sun earlier this week.

What he didn't want made public at the time was that he'd already decided which way to go.

Hobbled for a year by a rare neurological condition in his feet, the Winnipeg native always knew surgery was his last resort.

If all the treatments he explored failed to correct the numbness, burning and loss of balance which prevented him from running, let alone playing centre for the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, he'd know he was out of options.

In basketball terms, he'd have the ball in three-point range with everybody else covered, his team down by two and the clock down to one second.

This past Thursday morning, his career in the balance, MacCulloch said a prayer and launched a Hail Mary.

At the hands of a surgeon in Baltimore, Md., the Shaftesbury High School grad underwent a procedure which, as far as he knows, has never been attempted on a professional athlete.

Yesterday, recovering back home in Philadelphia, Pa., he dared to sound optimistic.

"It's hard to tell with this big, soft cast on," MacCulloch began. "But I think things went well."

The surgeon was looking for some kind of impingement, or blockage, interfering with a nerve in MacCulloch's foot.

The blockage could worsen the effects of a disorder known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth, which MacCulloch was diagnosed with last winter.

"It could be scar tissue, it could be a vein, it could be a muscle tendon," MacCulloch said. "Something basically putting pressure on that nerve that shouldn't be. Something occupying that tunnel.

"It could be that the river is damned, and you've got to open up that waterway."

The good news is, they found something.

How much it contributed to MacCulloch's condition isn't known, yet. But the news was enough to brighten the spirits of a 28-year-old struck down in the prime of his career.

"He found there was an indication of some blockage," MacCulloch said. "Hopefully, that will lead to an increase in sensation."

Before this, MacCulloch had tried virtually everything, from intravenous treatments to holistic medicine. Nothing worked.

His teammates moved on without him, leaving a frustrated MacCulloch to shoot baskets, alone, after practice. Game day, he does colour commentary on the Sixers radio broadcasts.

This month marks the one-year anniversary of his being sidelined.

It was time to make a decision.

"(I was) trying to avoid surgery at all costs," MacCulloch said. "Sometimes ... the nerves can heal if they're getting enough blood and oxygen. But if something's in the way, they're not going to. I thought it was probably best to wait to see whether they would heal on their own before going in there."

MacCulloch had the surgery done on his left foot. If successful, he'll do the right.

Non-athletes who've undergone the procedure have had mixed results, he's told.

"Some successful, some not so successful," he said. "Some got much better, some stayed the same, some people got worse. I don't know where I'm going to be on that scale."

The risk is that disturbing the nerve could worsen the condition. But it's believed to be low.

The ultimate reward would be rejoining his teammates as a full-fledged member of the Sixers.

MacCulloch knows that's still a long way off, though.

"I'm hoping for a positive outcome from the surgery, and trying to get back to feeling normal," he said. "And from there, see how well I do on the court.

"I have a lot of people praying for me and trying to be optimistic."









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
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