Calmness no Achilles heel for Beckham surgeon

TURKU, Finland - When the telephone rang at one o'clock in the morning, Dr Sakari Orava knew it was not going to be a regular Monday.

The call was from AC Milan's club doctor to say David Beckham had injured his Achilles tendon, they would like him to see Orava, for surgery, and could he do an operation later that day?

"It wasn't so easy to get back to sleep," Orava said.

"But I'm a devout Christian, so (my wife and I) prayed ... we said it is not up to us, it's in bigger hands to see if things go fine. I don't need to get stressed, I can be confident," he told Reuters in an interview.

The phone call marked the beginning of unprecedented scenes in Finland as news of Beckham's imminent arrival spread. Crowds at the airport, crowds at the clinic in the western city of Turku, even an appearance by Beckham's celebrity wife Victoria.

Through it all, Orava said he remained calm.

"Of course one thinks about that (the gravity), but it's good I have (experience) so I could tolerate the stress," Orava said.

"There is mental stress and pressure, but you can't show it. The job needs to be done.

"My hands were not trembling."

The surgery on Beckham, completed successfully on Monday, was the latest in a long line of prominent athletes for Orava, who has also operated on Haile Gebrselassie, Josep Guardiola, Didier Deschamps, and Merlene Ottey.


The 64-year-old Finn has been blessed with versatile hands, having enjoyed success in both breaking down people as well as fixing them up - before moving to medicine Orava won the 54 kg boxing title in Finland in 1962.

"Maybe I thought that I had done enough damage, so it was time to repair it," he laughed.

Orava started working as a doctor in 1972, spending evenings in a sports clinic in the northern town of Oulu where he became familiar with athletes' injuries.

"We have lots of Achilles tendon problems in Scandinavia. If you think about the conditions outside, with people running in snowy, icy surfaces, conditions, they have lots of... problems. You saw a lot of those injuries."

Orava then began to work with Finnish track and field athletes, eventually becoming chief doctor for the national Olympic team for four Summer Games from Seoul to Sydney.

His work in football began in the early 1990s, helped in part by operations done on Italian track and field athletes in the mid 1980s, and he has done operations in both Italy and Spain for many years.

In Spain Orava has been based in Madrid, but says sometimes he gets requests to travel.

"When I am in Madrid, they may call me from Barcelona and say 'You know, Sakari, we from Catalonia cannot come to Madrid... come to see us, we have a couple of boys who have some problems'," Orava laughed.


While Beckham was on a different scale when compared to past patients, Orava said there are some similarities in dealing with top athletes.

"Confidence has to be created. One has to speak in a language that athletes understand... You have to know all the details of sports.

"Sometimes I leave it open, say 'you go home and think about this, and contact me if you want to come here'," he added.

But Orava said perhaps his toughest case was one that, on paper, was considered a failure.

When he met Pierluigi Casiraghi in the late 1990s, the Italian soccer player was on crutches, with a brace on his knee and eight operations behind him.

"He injured his knee playing for Chelsea. It was a very bad injury. It was a very demanding task to operate on him for a ninth time," Orava said, noting he and an Italian doctor had to make a new patellar tendon for Casiraghi.

"Statistics show he never came back to play again .. but it was one of the big successes I have done," Orava said.

"After one year, he was ... running. His life had come back."

Casiraghi would ultimately have one more knee operation before ending his playing career.

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