When Dr. Bill Meyers discusses how he became the world’s foremost authority on core muscle repair, he speaks of “eureka” moments and seeing things with “new eyes.” But everything he discovered might well have stayed a mystery had an administrator not made him choose between soccer and medicine.
After playing goalie at Harvard University during his time at the school, Meyers wanted to see if he could make it in the sport professionally. So he headed to South America. After signing a $100,000 contract with the Rio-based Flamengo club, he received an ultimatum from Columbia University’s medical school, where he’d deferred his acceptance: Enroll now or lose your spot forever. “I would’ve been the starter,” says the Haverford resident about his budding soccer career.
At school, Meyers was also the Harvard correspondent for the Boston Globe and (a small) part of a legendary sports staff that included journalistic titans Will McDonough, Peter Gammons, Bud Collins and Bob Ryan. “I wanted to go into journalism,” he says.
But Meyers was also a practical man. He headed to Morningside Heights, kicking off a trajectory that would make him an essential part of the sporting landscape. Meyers has developed treatments that have demystified injuries to muscles deep within the human core—those previously diagnosed as groin pulls or described incorrectly as sports hernias. In the process, he’s helped thousands of top-flight athletes around the world. “Bill is a pioneer,” says Dr. Struan Coleman, a close colleague and renowned hip surgeon who also works at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery. “He’s that rare combination of a great surgeon and an entrepreneur.”
Meyers has literally written the book on core muscle care. (Full disclosure: I was a guest writer on the project.) He’s worked with team physicians and trainers to diagnose and treat athletes at the highest levels, along with regular folks seeking relief from pain due to damage in the body’s core area running from chest to mid-thigh. Based in the Philadelphia Navy Yard just around the corner from Philly’s pro sports complexes, his Vincera Institute is a full-service facility that allows him, his staff and a network of experts in other parts of the country to examine, test and operate on patients. There are rehab facilities and even a yoga studio. It’s all designed to promote core health and maximum performance, whether it means playing for an NFL team or simply picking up a bag of groceries without wincing in pain.
Meyers had originally decided to go into pediatric medicine. “[But] I was just looking at throats and ears all day,” he says.
On the last day he had to make a decision about his specialty, he chose surgery over internal medicine. After his 1977 graduation from Columbia, he headed to Duke University Hospital for an internship and residency, spending the next 21 years in Durham, N.C., building a top liver surgery practice.
Meyers also developed relationships with the medical staff in Duke’s athletic department. By the early 1990s, he was seeing college athletes whose core muscle issues had defied traditional orthopedic treatments. While working on a cadaver at Duke, Meyers experienced a revelatory moment that helped cement the relationship between core tears and pain in other parts of the body. He began moving away from surgery on the liver and other internal organs and shifting his focus to athletes. New treatment protocols followed. “It began as a hobby and just grew,” he says.
In 2001, Meyers landed at Drexel University College of Medicine, where his nationwide reputation for repairing core muscle injuries took off as he fought (often unsuccessfully) to remove the “sports hernia” misnomer from the vernacular. One of his most celebrated cases was Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. “He put core muscle surgery on the public map,” says Meyers, who operated on McNabb in 2005.
In 2010, Meyers left Drexel and launched Vincera (Latin for “will conquer”) in the old Commander’s House at the Navy Yard. Three years later, the practice moved into its current state-of-the-art home. With Coleman, Meyers has developed a one-anesthesia surgical procedure that repairs both the core and hip of an injured person, assuring complete healing. “Ninety percent of the professional and collegiate athletes we operate on are back in the game within five-and-a-half months,” Coleman says.
Meyers and the Vincera team have treated top athletes from every major sport, though Meyers is bound by HIPAA regulations and can’t get specific. Joe DeCamara is one patient who’s happy to talk about his experience under Meyers’ care. The 94WIP sports radio midday host suffered a core muscle injury playing baseball and was treated and underwent rehab at Vincera. “He’s such an expert and was so willing to spend time with me to gauge my injuries,” DeCamara says.
The skeptics are still out there. They don’t understand that muscle tears are debilitating and need repair rather than rest. And it’s not just coaches who are calling athletes with these injuries “soft” when they can’t perform well while suffering from them. There are also doctors who are unwilling to change their previous perspectives on such injuries. “The athletic trainers and most team docs understand a lot of it now—they’re getting much more educated,” Meyers says. “Still, most docs don’t know what we’re talking about.”
Count on Meyers to keep at it until they do.
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