At 68 years old, Pastor Bob Kurtz of Cullman, Alabama, beat his own world record in June by playing 500 consecutive holes of golf, an astounding feat that was aided by a revolutionary new tendonitis treatment called Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP).
A group from Pastor Bob’s congregation at St. John’s Protestant Evangelical Church devised the concept of a golf marathon to raise money for children in Kenya. An avid golfer who spent his free time devoted to the development of his golf game, Pastor Bob was asked to be the “iron man” of the marathon as he does not have the typical background of your average pastor.
He began his career in broadcast journalism and twenty years later, at 45, was the top sportscaster for CNN. But his position lacked a spiritual connection. Kurtz believed the industry was too material-centric revolving around money, power, and egos. Following in his father Chuck Kurtz’s footsteps, Bob turned to the ministry. He devoted his energy to serving God and others as a pastor for more than 20 years. Then it was decided that Mr. Kurtz would become the ultimate golf iron man.
A standard golf marathon consists of 100 holes, but Kurtz’s love for golf and his philanthropic energy wouldn’t settle for the status quo. He completed three marathons of 168 holes and 220 holes, and, in 2008, broke the 401 hole Guinness Book World Record by playing 405 consecutive holes of golf.
“Then I thought I could do 500,” says Kurtz. “I had a year to get ready and I was ready except for one problem, and that was a torn tendon in my right elbow. That was a major concern.”
Kurtz had been hitting hundreds of golf balls per day to prepare for the ultimate marathon accomplishment and in his conditioning, acquired what is known as the golfer’s elbow: a soft-tissue tendon tear on the inside of his right elbow.
“I was physically strong enough to hit that many golf balls but was growing more and more concerned about the right elbow, the golfer’s elbow,” Kurtz continued. “It’s very, very painful.”
With the 500 hole marathon approaching, and an increasingly painful tendon tear, Kurtz sought help at Alabama Spine and Joint Center in Birmingham. With surgery requiring excessive recovery time and strength loss, Kurtz needed a medical treatment that could expedite the healing process and discovered Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP).
“Mr. Kurtz opted for PRP, a developing treatment that has gained prominence for its potential to heal soft-tissue injuries, such as tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, Achilles and knee tendonitis, quickly” says Dr. Kenneth A. Jaffe, an Orthopedic surgeon at ASJC. “It is very safe and there is almost no risk of complication or side effects. Due to its infancy in research though, it is still considered somewhat experimental.”
Mr. Kurtz’s treatment was a very simple, straightforward procedure to perform. PRP requires about an hour and involves removing a small amount of a patient’s blood and then rapidly spinning it in a centrifuge or filtration system. Healing components of the blood known as platelets are separated from red blood cells and re-injected directly into the injured area, where blood would rarely go otherwise. The platelets are naturally occurring, and normally used by the body in smaller doses. This procedure can catalyze the body’s natural healing response and uses a highly concentrated dose, from 3 to 10 times that of normal blood, of platelets.
“The healing components used by PRP are autologous, meaning they come from the patient’s own body. PRP injections are very safe and there is almost no risk of rejection,” says Dr. Jaffe. “The question is to what extent the injection will heal the injury.”
While a multitude of clinical studies are underway, the research to this point has concluded PRP can be beneficial and warrants further research. PRP has been used for over 20 years in the dental community and is finally making its way into the treatment of sports injuries and tendonitis. An October review in the prestigious Journal of American Academy of Orthopedic Medicine concluded the treatment continues to show promise and more research is needed to prove its full effectiveness.
“PRP tendon treatment is new and I believe patients should be well informed when facing treatment options,” said Dr. Jaffe. “Mr. Kurtz needed his body to perform at a high-level and was willing to be on the leading edge of this treatment for its sake.”
Many other athletes who also require frequent peak performances have turned to PRP. Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers credits his 2009 Super Bowl success to PRP. Ward became injured in the first quarter of a playoff game with a sprain to the medial lateral ligament in his right knee. Ward received PRP the following day. In the Super Bowl, two weeks later, Ward caught two passes in the Steelers victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
In a New York Times article, Ward stated, “I think it really helped me. The injury that I had was a severe injury, maybe a four- or six-week injury. In order for me to go out there and play in two weeks, I don’t think anyone with a grade-2 M.C.L. sprain gets back that fast.”
Many athletes have also successfully treated their injury and expedited their recovery, including Ward’s teammate Troy Palamalu, New York Giants Chris Canty, LA Dodgers pitcher Taiko Saito, PGA Tour golfer John Daly and recently, 2009 NBA draft, number-one selection Blake Griffin.
“It is not just professional athletes who may benefit from PRP,” Dr. Jaffe says, “the recreational athlete and elderly alike can have their injuries treated. It may eliminate the necessity for certain individuals to receive surgery as their only corrective means. It’s significantly cheaper and less painstaking than soft-tissue repair surgery.”
Mr. Kurtz agrees. “It wasn’t difficult at all. It’s kind of interesting because you can sit there and watch what they’re doing. It turned out to reduce a lot of the pain and gave me my confidence back. In all honesty, I never thought about it (the injury) the two days of the marathon.”
Following PRP, Mr. Kurtz completed the 500 hole marathon in June, by playing for two days and one night. When he completed his 500th hole, blowing away his previously held record of 405 holes, he had raised over $40,000 for children’s charities. The energetic and ambitious Mr. Kurtz was very thankful for the option of receiving PRP.
“This injection helped me out enormously. It exceeded my hopes.” Kurtz then chuckled, “We finished with the 500th hole and the last thing I thought about was an aching elbow. There were a lot of other things that ached, but not the elbow.”