Netipong “James” Srithong was just six years old when he went golfing with his father for the first time. He started training seriously for competitive golf at age twelve and qualified to join Thailand’s national golf team at age seventeen. Because of his athletic gift and determination, James always scored high. When he became a member of the national team, he practiced even harder and dreamed of one day becoming a professional golfer.
But eight months before going to Myanmar for the SEA Games, James slipped and fell. He suffered a severe arm injury, breaking it in several places. “It was as if my dream collapsed right in front of me,” he says.
Golf is his life
“My father is a judge, and he likes playing golf,” James recalls. “I always went with him to the course. At first, it was just for fun. Then, I competed in tournaments and met lots of other golfers with whom I became friends with. When my game got better, I entered more and more tournaments. I got into the national team when I was in eleventh grade.”
“I practiced a lot during that time,” James recalls. “I was barely at school because I attended golf training camp every month. We got up early, went running at 7 am, and practiced driving until evening to prepare ourselves for the SEA Games in Indonesia.”
This national athlete’s life seemed to run smoothly. James practiced nonstop, even when he started college at the Faculty of Law, Thammasart University. “I dreamed of becoming a successful professional golfer,” he says. “I wanted to play on the European Tour like Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Apibanrat, who both played on the national team before going pro.”
When your dream seems to fade, “give up” or “move on”?
Around the end of 2013, James was scheduled to attend a tournament at the 27th SEA Games in Myanmar. But in April that year, he suffered a huge setback. “I went to Nakhon Sri Thammarat with my family to make merit,” recalls James. “I wasn’t careful and slipped and fell down some high steps. My elbow hit the ground extremely hard. At first, my arm was numb, and I couldn’t move it. I wasn’t sure if I had broken it until my father took me to the hospital. But I didn’t have the operation right then because my situation as an athlete golfer was extremely sensitive and we wanted to make sure our next move was the right one. My father’s friend, who is a doctor, recommended that I go to Bumrungrad International Hospital for the operation. I flew back to Bangkok that very day. I had fallen at around 10 am that morning, and as soon as I got to the hospital, at around 10 pm that night, I had my operation.
“The first thing that came to mind when I fell was the tremendous fear that I wouldn’t be able to practice. Being injured would cost me so much time! The doctor informed me of the risk that I might not be able to move my wrist normally after surgery, and I might not be able to play golf as well as I used to. My hopes of returning to play on the national team and going professional were gone. I was very distraught. I could barely move my elbow, it was very painful. But a month after the surgery, I gradually regained wrist movement, almost back to normal.”
Keep fighting, for yourself and everyone around you
After his release from the hospital, James’ treatment continued with physical therapy once a week. The therapist extended and bent his shoulder and elbow to prevent them from healing improperly in a way that restricted his range of motion. “It was incredibly painful, but all I was thinking of then was that I must be patient and that I had to recover,” James says, “not only for myself, but also for my family, and my country. I had a tournament at the SEA Games in Myanmar waiting for me. I was one of the four on-ground players. If I didn’t recover in time, the team would lose one of its players.”
Two months after his surgery, which required inserting a plate into his arm, James started practicing golf using only his right hand, putting short distances. He began with easy and light moves, then to more rigorous training under the supervision and support of his family, coach, and friends. “I had to encourage myself to carry on, because every time I did physical therapy, it was painful,” James says. “But I never backed down, not even for a second. My arm swelled up, but the doctor told me to open and close my hand frequently to help the blood circulate. I did everything he said. Never once did I consider giving up.”
In December of 2013, James joined his first post-surgery tournament. He started at the Nomura Cup, SEA Games, followed by the ASEAN Games in South Korea. At the end of 2014, he had another operation at Bumrungrad to remove the plate. James was even more nervous about this surgery because he knew if he couldn’t move his arm afterwards, his pro golf dream was over.
But everything went well. “After the surgery to remove the plate I had six months to prepare for the SEA Games in Singapore,” James says. “I hoped to win an individual gold medal because I had failed twice at that. I also wanted to become a professional golfer after the SEA Games – and I did. And that’s the medal of which I am most proud.”
Today, 22-year-old James golfs professionally, and has competed in Asian tournaments before stepping up to World tournaments. According to James’ experience, when you choose to “move on” with determination, all that’s left is achieving success.
Not just recovered, but a 100 percent come back
Treating Netipong “James” Srithong was a special case because it entailed helping a gifted golfer who contributed to the betterment of Thailand. Better Health gets the renowned athlete’s treatment details from Dr. Wirat Kongcharoensombat, a specialist in orthopedic surgery.
The high stakes of James’ case
James’ broken arm was what we call a comminuted distal one-third of shaft humerus fracture, which means his bones had broken above his elbow. Of most concern were the nerves around the broken bone area. One wrong move could be disastrous, necessitating him to rest for years or in the worst case, making him permanently unable to tilt his wrist and fingers.
Did you feel more pressure because the patient was a promising athlete?
Not really. But I did have some concerns because I knew he was playing in the SEA Games, and he wanted to go professional after that. We couldn’t give treatment for a merely serviceable recovery. We had to do it fast and preserve his high-level golf skills. I was concerned about how fast he could get back to playing and whether he would regain his pre-accident capabilities. My team and I at Bumrungrad did our best.
How was the outcome?
The patient’s discipline in following his treatment plan helped his recovery. Just a few months after surgery he was able to resume his practice schedule. We arranged a physical therapy program that helped him to recover as soon as possible. Today he is one hundred percent healthy.