Orthopedic surgeon James Andrews knew he would become a doctor years before his successes were recognized worldwide. A native of Homer, in Claiborne Parish, he received a medical degree from LSU and then completed his orthopedic residency at Tulane Medical School.
He said his grandfather challenged him from the time he was young.
“I planted that seed very early in my life. He kept telling me I was going to be his doctor once grown up, ”Andrews said in an interview with The Advocate. “I was a regular 4-year-old kid waiting for his dad to come back from overseas during World War II, and I immediately realized what I wanted to become as an adult man. It was magic.”
For the 80-year-old orthopedic surgeon, that seed eventually led to him becoming one of the best-known and most popular orthopedic surgeons in the United States, one who has performed on many high-profile athletes.
His latest career development is a five-year exclusive partnership with Ochsner Health in Lafayette to create The Ochsner Andrews Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute.
The institute is among about 20 partnerships the Louisiana-based health system entered nationwide.
On Tuesday, Andrews attended a welcome reception in Lafayette at Ochsner Lafayette General Orthopedic Hospital.
Over his career, Andrews has become recognized for his skills as an orthopedic surgeon, performing procedures on such high-profile athletes as Michael Jordan, Brett Favre, Jack Nicklaus, Bo Jackson and John Smoltz.
But, he said, it was former Saints quarterback Drew Brees who remembers the most.
“Let me tell you about Drew; it is not what I did, but what he actually did, you know. He stayed for four months with me, working every day in the physiotherapy department after his injury to him, ”he said. “He was the hardest-motivated and the most passionate athlete I have ever taken care of in my entire life.”
Brees, then playing for the San Diego Chargets, tore the cartilage and dislocated his throwing shoulder Dec. 31, 2005, during a home loss to the Denver Broncos. It was the type of injury that might end a career, Andrews said.
“Drew kept asking me if I was going to open and cut to fix his shoulder or if I could do the procedure arthroscopically because he knew that when you have to open, your career can be over,” he recalled.
“It was the first thing he asked me when he woke up from surgery, and when I told him we made it arthroscopically, I heard his relief.”
A few months after the surgery, Brees moved to Louisiana, where he built an empire and gifted New Orleans with its first Super Bowl win in 2009, when the Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31–17.
But Andrews’ main focus has always been on student-athletes in their early careers.
“The biggest joy for me is when an athlete grows up, recovers from an injury that could damage his career, gets a job, and goes further in his success,” he said.
One of the latest procedures he completed, a Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle whose ACL and MCL injury developed a life-threatening blood clot, was a perfect example of his efforts, he said.
“That clot could have killed him. When they sent him to me, the situation was very serious,” he said. “But we figured out how to handle the issue. We brought him back to his feet from him, and he is now succeeding in the NFL as he was supposed to. ”
Orthopedic surgeon Brian Etier, who joined the Acadiana Orthopedic Center in 2016, became a protege of Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama, where Etier completed his orthopedic residency.
Etier said the new partnership between Ochsner and the Andrews Institute would help more than 8,000 students in 28 high schools in the Acadiana region, members of basketball, baseball, and football teams next season.
“We have two goals here. We want to work preventing as many injuries as possible through counsel and key programs and helping student-athletes who suffered from injuries to get back on track in the most-qualified way possible,” Etier said.
“Dr. Andrews was my mentor after medical school, and I am so grateful I could learn from his expertise, his orthopedic techniques, and his medical knowledge. ”
During the welcome reception, Andrews said that helping student-athletes is like giving back. And he shared two lessons for future generations of surgeons and athletes.
Lesson one: Be humble and modest and listen to those who speak. lesson two? If you want to handle the pressure, don’t overdo it.
“It is something I learned from my mentors,” Andrews said. “If you have a special athlete to operate on and feel the burden, don’t do special things. Just stick to your routine, and everything will be alright.”