Tyler Dunlea – UCL Repair Surgery

I have always been a hard thrower for my age. In 2022, during my freshman year of high school I was up to 86mph. I made my high school varsity team, playing in a very competitive conference, and even pitched a 6 inning 1 hitter that spring. During that summer I managed to throw a no hitter in a Perfect Game tournament. My success was starting to draw college attention. Unfortunately after that no hitter was the first time I experienced arm discomfort.

I had always had good arm care. I took mandatory rest periods and limited my pitch counts. Believing the discomfort would go away I continued to play the next couple weekends. My velocity dipped and the pain got worse to where at times I could only throw fastballs. After rest didn’t help I got an MRI near my home in MA in September of 2022. I was told I had a mildly sprained UCL. I should follow 8 weeks of rest and recovery with no PT required.

I did this and my arm felt great. I was able to put in off season pitching work that winter and even hit a personal best velo of 88.7 MPH. By March, 2023 I was named a PBR top 5 RHP in New England for my recruiting class. Colleges were asking about me. Everything was looking great and I was so excited to go into my sophomore season.

In hindsight there was most likely irreversible damage at that point. On March 27, 2023 I was given the ball to start our first scrimmage of the high school season. My arm felt fantastic and adrenaline was flowing. 6 pitches in I felt something in my elbow pop. I threw 2 more pitches and it felt like my elbow was hyperextending. I called my coach and trainer out and had to leave the game.

From the beginning I had great medical care. My high school trainer got me in to see an orthopedic doctor in my area. That doctor, after viewing the MRI, told me to see Dr. Ahmad. He felt that I needed to put my arm in the care of a doctor who works on hard throwing athletes all the time. I had a complete distal tear of my UCL from the bone. I was told I might qualify for UCL repair surgery rather than full Tommy John. If correct, my junior season of high school could be saved.

I first met with Dr. Ahmad virtually where he confirmed my MRI. We scheduled surgery for April 18th, 2023. My family and I traveled to NY. Immediately I felt more confident meeting Dr. Ahmad and Frank. I had to OK either Tommy John or Brace surgery, because Dr. Ahmad wouldn’t know for sure the condition of my UCL until he felt it during the procedure. I was lucky that I was able to have my UCL repaired and could fully return for my junior year.

The first 6 weeks after surgery were tough. I was in a brace, couldn’t drive, and had to watch my high school team compete from the sidelines. My arm wasn’t too uncomfortable and I began PT twice a week. My PT was fantastic and he helped guide me through Dr. Ahmad’s return to throw program. Physically there were challenges but at this stage the mental part of recovery was most difficult.

By July I made my first throw to my dad. It felt good to just be able to throw a baseball again. I also began working out with a strength and conditioning coach that trains many college and professional baseball players. It helped to remind myself that even though I couldn’t pitch, I could still put in work to become a better baseball player. I focused on learning about nutrition, strength training, rest, and recovery.

By mid fall 2023 I was allowed to begin pitching. This was unexpectedly challenging for me. My arm felt fine, with normal aches and pains associated with recovering from surgery. Mentally I found it challenging to go through the action that had caused my injury in the first place. I reached out to a college player I knew who had rehabbed from Tommy John. He told me my anxiety was normal and just another part of the process. It helped to know that he had worked through this because that meant I could too. Rehabbing a UCL injury leaves you on the sidelines. It can be lonely. Talking to those who have been through the process helped me feel less alone.

At the same time I was learning to throw hard again, colleges were regularly checking in. During phone calls I tried to sound positive about my recovery. Some days I felt that way, but other days I felt drained. I was working so hard in the gym, at PT, in throwing sessions, with the belief that someday I would feel like me again.

By mid January, 2024 I was 8 months post surgery and my velocity was sitting 82-84, topping 86. My change up looked really good. I couldn’t throw my curve ball yet with 100% strength. Despite that, I attended a few showcases so coaches could see my progress. One school in particular, UMass Lowell, had been near the top of my list before injury. A couple weeks after a successful showcase my family visited UML and toured the school and baseball facilities. A few days after the visit, and 10 months after UCL surgery, I committed to play division 1 baseball at UMass Lowell.

By committing to UML I removed the added pressure of recruiting. Now it was me against myself as I worked to return for my junior season. During winter of 2023 at times my command was wild. My velocity sat at 84, then 86, then 87. I hit 88 once prior to my first high school game. My change up looked better than before surgery but mentally I still didn’t have my curveball.

On April 1st, 2024 I took the field in the 6th inning of my first high school game. It was 17 days short of one year since I had UCL surgery with Dr. Ahmad. During that first game back, I threw 2 scoreless innings, giving up 3 hits, 0 walks, and striking out 5. For the first time in my life my velocity hit 90mph. It was a successful outing but the biggest accomplishment was just getting back on the field.

My curve ball is coming back. My confidence is increasing. My arm feels great. This is a hard process to go through but there is more baseball to play on the other side. I’m so grateful for Dr. Ahmad’s help keeping my dream of playing division 1 baseball alive. He and Frank gave me hope when I was at my lowest point. Their guidance got me back on the mound and there aren’t enough words to express my appreciation.