Q&A with Dr. Jo Hannafin

During the Liberty vs. Phoenix game on Tuesday, September 10th the Liberty will recognize long-time team physician Dr. Jo A. Hannafin for both her accomplishments and her courage as an inspiring woman. Dr. Hannafin is a Sports Medicine Orthopedic Surgeon and Director of Orthopedic Research at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Among her many accolades, Dr. Hannafin was recently named the first female president of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine.

Q&A with Dr. Jo Hannafin

Q: How long have you been the Liberty’s orthopedic doctor/surgeon? And how did the opportunity come about?
A: I became a Liberty team physician in the spring of 2005. Dr. Lisa Callahan had begun to work with the NY Knicks as the Director of Player Medical Care and offered me the opportunity to become involved.

Q: What is the best thing about doing what you do?
A: I love taking care of active and athletic patients of all agents but have a particular fondness for taking care of female athletes. My goal is to diagnose their injury, educate them about the options for treatment and design a treatment plan (either surgical or non-surgical) that gets them back to the sports and activities that they enjoy. I love being in the operating room where I get to fix the injuries that need surgical treatment.

Q: What is the worst thing about doing what you do?
A: Giving bad news to patients regarding their injury. For many athletes an injury such as an ACL or shoulder dislocation requiring surgery will keep them out of sports for 6-9 months. Delivering that information to high school juniors/seniors (who may be looking at colleges) and to professional or national team athletes is especially difficult as the injury may have significant ramifications for future competition.

Q: When did you know that you would be a doctor? Did you have any role models?
A: I took two years off after college to decide whether I wanted to go to graduate school to become a scientist or medical school to become a physician. I ended up training to do both via a MD-PhD program. My most significant role model in orthopaedics has been Dr. Russell Warren who I trained with at the Hospital for Special Surgery. He has been a pioneer in the field of sports medicine and has been the team physician for the NY Giants for over 20 years.

Q: You have worked with elite female athletes for quite some time. Many people say that today’s WNBA athletes are bigger/faster/stronger. Has that been your experience? What change in female athletes have you seen overall, if any?
A: I would agree that today’s athletes are bigger, faster and stronger in the WNBA than a decade ago. In general, girls begin to play competitive sports at a younger age, receive excellent high school, club and collegiate coaching, and are involved in strength training programs at an earlier age. Improvements in nutrition over the last twenty years have also changed the size and strength of our athletes.

Q: It is well known that you performed Essence Carson’s surgery, and you’ve been around her for all six years of her career with the Liberty. What can you tell us about Essence as a person, based on what you see behind the scenes?
A: Essence is a very intelligent and talented person with a drive to succeed in everything that she does. She also has a great sense of humor and the ability to put things in perspective. The day after injuring her ACL she was working on her plan to return to sports and has had an incredibly positive and upbeat attitude throughout the process.

Q: Over the past 18 months, you have experienced significant health issues and look better than ever. Do you mind sharing with Liberty fans some of your experience with cancer and your recovery? Specifically, some of our fans may be fighting a major illness, or they may have a close friend or family member who is. What advice can you share with them in terms of how to deal with it and how to overcome it?
A: On April 13, 2012 I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. I was stunned to hear the news (because I had always been very healthy) but focused almost immediately on what I could do to beat it. I had four months of chemotherapy and then left for London to work as a physician at the Olympic Games. When I returned I discovered that I was not in remission and chose to undergo a stem cell transplant in September 2013 at Dana Farber in Boston. The first few months following the transplant were both physically and emotionally challenging but return to work, sports and activity were my goals. My husband, children, friends and colleagues were critical to my recovery and provided incredible support to me over the last year. I am very happy to say that I am healthy now and am back to my normal life.

Q: You were recently named President of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, and you are the first female to serve in that capacity. What does that say about you?
A: It reflects the fact that I care about the field of sports medicine and have contributed to the society and the field of sports medicine in a variety of ways over many years.

Q: You are an inspiring woman for our players and staff for so many reasons. Who inspires you and why?
A: My parents were an aspiration for me. They worked very hard to make certain that their children were able to attend college and pursue careers that they enjoyed. I am also inspired daily by my patients and the people that I work with at HSS. My colleagues at HSS are all driven by excellence in patient care. I am inspired by people who chose to “do the right thing”

Q: What’s next for you?
A: We are hoping for a year with “no drama”, good health and a pretty normal day to day life doing the things that I enjoy: spending time with family and friends, taking care of patients, covering Liberty games and rowing events and enjoying each day as it comes. I hope to be working at the 2016 Olympic Games with the US rowing team.