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UT-Houston Medicine Magazine

Houston's premier sports medicine institute has a history all its own

By Camille Webb

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A unique partnership that combines a world-class hospital system with two top-notch medical school sports programs to provide comprehensive medical care to competitive and recreational athletes finally came to fruition in January after 25 years in the making with the opening of the Roger Clemens Institute for Sports Medicine & Human Performance at Memorial Hermann.

Located on the 16th floor of the new Memorial Hermann Medical Plaza at the corner of Fannin and MacGregor streets, the Roger Clemens Institute is a collaborative effort between Memorial Hermann, the UT Medical School, and Baylor College of Medicine.

The Roger Clemens Institute is Houston's single source for the most comprehensive health care and treatment for professional athletes, high school and college players, and weekend enthusiasts. It combines advanced sports medicine, rehabilitation, and orthopaedic care with medically based human performance research and protocols.

History in the making

The history of creating a sports medicine institute in Houston goes back to the early 1980s when Roger Bulger, M.D., was leading the UT Health Science Center and John Porretto was its chief financial officer. The two discussed the possibility of developing a sports medicine institute but due to financial constraints of the health science center, planning ceased.

"There was a desire to create a center of excellence for sports medicine, but there was never enough momentum to get it off the ground," says Thomas Clanton, M.D., co-medical director of the Roger Clemens Institute from the UT Medical School. "Things developed in Houston so that sports medicine care took place in multiple locations by many different individuals, and there was never any single source for comprehensive sports medicine care that included both recreational and competitive athletes."

Woven into the history is Dr. Clanton's own background as a college athlete at Rice University and his desire to pursue sports medicine professionally. He graduated from Baylor College of Medicine in 1976 and then completed an orthopaedic residency that was followed by two fellowships in foot and ankle and knee and sports medicine. After his fellowship, Dr. Clanton joined the Medical School in 1982 as a clinical faculty member directing the Foot and Ankle Service of what was then the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery (the division received departmental status in 1993).

Also in 1982, Dr. Clanton joined Rice University as assistant team physician. He worked with Jay Butler, M.D., who was the head team physician.

"Jay and I talked about developing a sports medicine institute and discussed it with both Memorial Hermann and UT, but once again, the environment just wasn't right to make it happen," says Dr. Clanton, who is also professor and holder of the Edward T. Smith, M.D., Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery.

Eventually, Dr. Butler stepped down from his role at Rice, and Leland Winston, M.D., took over. In 1995, Drs. Clanton and Winston became co-team physicians for all Rice University athletic programs.

In 1997, Dr. Clanton became chair of the Medical School's Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and proposed the idea of a sports medicine institute to UT Health Science Center President James T. Willerson, M.D.

"We looked at potential opportunities on the south campus. We did marketing analysis and studies in association with the Rice University School of Business," he explains. "Because of some financial constraints of the health science center, we were never able to put that together."

Medical schools team up for the big leagues

When the NFL's Houston Texans launched their official season in 2002, they chose Baylor College of Medicine's Walter Lowe, M.D., as their head team physician. To assist Dr. Lowe with the medical care of the Texans, Dr. Clanton was named a team orthopaedist along with David Lintner, M.D., from Methodist Hospital.

"That was probably the first situation where a college or professional team had faculty members from both medical schools working together," Dr. Clanton says.

Dr. Clanton's connections with Drs. Lowe and Lintner and other sports medicine physicians led to discussions about ways Houston could benefit from a sports medicine institute.

"It would be comprehensive, subspecialty-based within the fields of sports medicine and orthopaedics and provide more than just orthopaedic sports medicine care," Dr. Clanton explains. "It would provide physical therapy, human performance, nutritional counseling, and sports psychology and include other fields with a relation to sports medicine."

Hospital giant steps up to the plate

When Daniel Wolterman became president and chief executive officer of the Memorial Hermann Healthcare System in 2002, he had a vision of creating a center of excellence in sports medicine for Houston through the Memorial Hermann System, Dr. Clanton recalls.

"Dan Wolterman and I talked about it and looked at different ways of doing it," Dr. Clanton says. "From the very start, my position was that this was something that needed to be multi-institutional."

Dr. Clanton saw the vision of a comprehensive and collaborative sports medicine institute that would provide services to the entire community and be a place the community could support.

At a certain point in time, marketing partnerships developed with professional sports teams and health care organizations. Health care organizations wanted to market their services, while sports teams wanted health care partners that could provide comprehensive services and special attention to their athletes' needs.

In July 2005, Memorial Hermann reached a multi-year agreement with the NBA's Houston Rockets, WNBA's Houston Comets, and AHL's Houston Aeros to become the official health care provider for all three professional teams. Also, Dr. Clanton was named the lead team physician for the Rockets.

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