Ross University Blog

ALUMNI: 2009 Graduate Treats NFL Players as Orthopedic Sports Medicine Specialist

November 09, 2015

Sommerhalder and Veatch, RUSM alumni
RUSM graduate Filippo Chillemi, MD (Class of 2009), sports medicine physician

It’s a Sunday, and Filippo Chillemi, MD (RUSM Class of 2009) is waiting in a private hangar at Pensacola International Airport. He’ll board a private jet bound for Washington, DC where, upon arrival, he and his colleagues will be whisked from the airport to a special entrance at FedExField, home of the Washington Redskins.

It might sound like the route taken by a professional football player or halftime show star. In reality, Dr. Chillemi is part of a team of independent medical advisors hired by the Redskins to consult as well as evaluate and treat players. “Before each game, we head to the locker room to evaluate any active injuries, and give clearance on whether players are going to play or not,” he says. “Then, when the game stats, we head to the sidelines.”

After the game, you’ll find him consulting on tests and screenings, or evaluating any bumps and bruises that may not have been disclosed to the medical staff during the game. When all is said and done, he and his team return to the plane, fly back to Florida, and spend the week following up with these and other athletes who seek out their advice on surgeries, treatments, and ongoing care.

Plan A Was Soccer—Plan B Was Medical School

Dr. Chillemi has always been interested in sports. In fact, in high school, he was a star soccer player, traveling the world to compete in youth world cups and other international events. Upon graduation, he accepted a full scholarship to play for Notre Dame’s top flight soccer team. “I had a plan A and a plan B,” he says. “Plan A was to play soccer: go to Europe, and play until I couldn’t play anymore. If I couldn’t play soccer, plan B was to go to medical school.”

So when he injured his ankle, plan B quickly became the only plan worth pursuing.

My brother went to RUSM, and to be honest, I didn’t apply anywhere else,” he says. “Going into medical school I knew I wanted to be an orthopedist, and I knew it would be competitive. So I worked hard, became valedictorian, and scored very high on my exams so I would be a competitive applicant. It worked out.”

How He Launched His Career as a Sports Medicine Physician

Indeed, it did. Dr. Chillemi scored a residency at the University of South Alabama, which had just started its NCAA Division I football program. Working alongside just two other residents, Chillemi followed the team to every home and away game, training, and practice, gaining the one-on-one experience he needed to launch his career in sports medicine.

Today, Dr. Chillemi is an orthopedic sports medicine fellow at the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in Gulf Breeze, FL, treating baseball and football players ranging from high school students right up through the pros. The Andrews Institute was founded by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, MD, who is widely known nationally and abroad for his contributions to knee, shoulder, and elbow injuries.

"The Pensacola Blue Wahoos minor league baseball team comes to us, and on Fridays, we cover a bunch of local high school football teams,” he says. “Saturdays, we cover Auburn University—we fly up on the private jet for home and away games. And on Sundays, we’re with the Redskins.”

Leading the Charge on Important Medical Research

Between this busy schedule, Dr. Chillemi and his team are spearheading advances in stem cell research, particularly as it pertains to cartilage growth. “There’s no way to regrow particular cartilage once it’s been damaged, but we’re hoping stem cells are the answer,” he says. “It’s not proven yet—we’re still working on it—but we go in and expose the bone, we drill a hole, and inject stems cells into it. The hope is that the cells realize they’re in an area where they’re supposed to be cartilage, and grow into cartilage.” He hopes that this technology will eventually help the myriad players coming in with common sports injuries, like ACL and SLAP tears.

“As advisors, we’re not on the teams’ medical staffs,” he says. “And that’s important, so the players know we are unbiased. We want them to feel free to come to us and talk to us, and know that what we do may not be the best thing for the team, but it will be what is best for the athlete.”

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Tags: Alumni , Research

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