By David Bjorkgren
Special to the Hellenic News of America
Dr. Ken Swan knows what it’s like to be a school athlete injured on the field during a game.
The 51-year-old orthopedic surgeon played three varsity sports in high school—football, wrestling and lacrosse. He was a wide receiver at Cornell University where he earned his medical degree and a B.S. in Nutritional Sciences.
Along the way, he had some injuries and a couple of surgeries.
So he can sympathize with the players he now diagnoses and treats as a team physician at several high schools and colleges.
You’ll find Dr. Swan on Friday fall nights along the sidelines of several central New Jersey high school football games—including Woodbridge, Colonia, John F. Kennedy Memorial, Perth Amboy and Union High Schools.
“That is one of my favorite things,” says the sports medicine specialist. “I’m 50 now so I can’t be out there anymore. It’s about as close as I can get.”
His family doesn’t see too much of him during football season.
“I haven’t had a date night with my wife on a Friday night in 16 years,” he jokes.
He did once bring his 2-year-old son Kyle, now 18, to a game.
A player had taken a hit and was laying down on the field. When Dr. Swan ran out to check him out he realized he soon had company.
“My son had run out and he was just looking into the player’s face mask, trying to copy me. My toddler, the referee and me evaluating this athlete.”
Having a physician on the sideline at games offers peace of mind when a player is injured. Everyone knows an expert is there to determine if the athlete can play or needs treatment.
That’s especially important in the heat of the moment during a critical time in a game when the preference is to keep a player in the game.
“It’s our job to make sure we understand when we should bring him out,” Dr. Swan says.
Injuries can happen to anyone during an athletic event, not just players in a football game. Dr. Swan has treated cheerleaders, gymnasts, even a referee who needed to go to the ER.
Dr. Swan is an orthopedic surgeon in practice since 2006 with a specialty in sports medicine so he’s treating a lot of knee and shoulder injuries.
The Somerset County resident is part of Hackensack Meridian Health and operates out of the Jersey Shore University Medical Center, the Old Bridge Medical Center and the Raritan Bay Medical Center.
He has a new state-of-the-art office in Woodbridge, which puts him conveniently close to many of the student athletes he treats, as well as their coaches and the parents.
Dr. Swan has an office in Somerset for athletes out of Rutgers University and the surrounding areas. University Orthopaedic Associates has additional offices in Wall Twp, Princeton, and Morganville.
Why sports medicine?
Dr. Swan has been drawn to medicine since childhood. His father was a general surgeon who helped develop the first major trauma center in Newark back in the early 1970s. That was after his three tours in Vietnam.
“They had a lot of gunshot wounds there. He certainly had a lot of experience with that in Vietnam.”
His mother was a nurse. Growing up, he would listen to the stories of his parents and would follow his father’s lectures.
He grew fascinated with extremity injuries and gravitated toward orthopedics in medical school. His experience as an athlete led him to specialize in sports medicine.
Dr. Swan completed his internship and residency at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and did a Sports Medicine and Shoulder Surgery Fellowship at the University of Colorado.
Today, he is director of the Division of Orthopedic Surgery and Medical Director of the Human Motion Institute at Raritan Bay Medical Center and is an assistant professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
He’s also the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including several top doctor awards, a volunteer faculty award, a resident teaching award, and a “Gold Doc” Humanism Award in 2014 from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.
A patient who belonged to the Foundation nominated him for it, an elderly man with a knee condition who was having a hard time. Dr. Swan spent some time with him in the hospital and helped him get the nursing care he needed.
“That was a very nice honor,” Dr. Swan says. “An old professor of mine taught us in medical school that our job as doctors was to cure rarely, comfort sometimes, but to care always.”
It’s a philosophy he tries to emulate.
“When you’re in a rush and behind with patients, and you have a surgery waiting, you still need to care about what people are there for,” he says.
Dr. Swan has seen a lot of complex injuries from his work at trauma centers in central New Jersey, mending soft tissue ailments affecting ligaments, tendons and cartilage.
He’s also handled some unique cases.
“I had to operate on a 100-year-old man with a broken hip, then I was called to the neonatal unit because a baby was born with a broken humerus,” he says. “Zero days old and 100 years old in the same day.
“The field of orthopedics is pretty cool.”