Coach’s Knee Surgery Gives This Student-Athlete a Chance To Envision His Future

October 17, 2023 By Andrew Ramspacher, Andrew Ramspacher,

With an afternoon anatomy exam looming, University of Virginia second-year student-athlete Kyle Montaperto headed out that morning to an operating room in the UVA Health Orthopedic Center on Ivy Road for a last-minute cram session during his coach’s surgery.

“It was just like a review,” Montaperto said. “So I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Montaperto, who wrestles for the Cavaliers, is a kinesiology major who aspires to attend medical school. A self-proclaimed “big science guy” since he was a child, Montaperto’s interest only increased as he got involved in competitive sports and gained an appreciation for those who help athletes recover from injuries.

Dr. Winston Gwathmey, an orthopedic surgeon in the sports medicine division at UVA, has the kind of job Montaperto craves. So after watching Gwathmey speak to the “Athletes in Medicine” club on Grounds, Montaperto made a connection.

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“I’m really interested in orthopedics myself,” Montaperto said he told Gwathmey in an email last month. “Is there any chance I could come in and shadow you and pick your brain some more?”

The request was granted. On Oct. 5, after getting permission through the proper channels, Montaperto was in scrubs at 9 a.m. as Gwathmey prepared to perform knee surgery on Trent Paulson, one of Montaperto’s UVA wrestling coaches.

It made for a unique, yet rewarding experience.

“I joked around with the surgeon that Kyle would be watching and if he sees something that he doesn’t think looks right, he might throw a double-leg takedown in there,” Paulson said with a grin as he referenced a traditional wrestling move. “So, there was added pressure.

“But, no, [Gwathmey] was awesome. Everything went great. I was happy for Kyle to get something out of it.”

Like athletics, completing a successful operation is a total team effort. Montaperto bore witness to a variety of roles, from what’s required of the anesthesiologist to the operating room circulator to the surgical technologist to the surgeon himself.

He gained three hours of firsthand knowledge that can serve as a launching pad to a career.

“It’s really cool to get there and watch it,” Montaperto said, “but it’s going to be another thing to actually be able to put my hands on a patient and put them back together. It was just really, really neat.

“Afterwards, you just feel so motivated.”

Gwathmey, who’s been with UVA for a decade, said he’s had pre-med student-athletes sit in on surgeries of their teammates before. But what he noticed in Montaperto’s presence around his coach’s procedure was a desire to know how it all worked.

The 20-year-old wasn’t just a bystander in awe of the environment.

“He was asking questions,” Gwathmey said. “He was integrated into the team. Everybody loved talking to him, having him around.

“It makes the day a little different. Again, 1,000% of what we’re focused on is this patient on the table, but the fact of the matter is it kind of makes the day more interesting and fun because you’re trying to explain to somebody what you’re doing and the magic of what you’re trying to create in that operating room.

Montaperto in 125 pound match

When he’s not shadowing doctors and plotting out his future career, Montaperto wrestles at 125 pounds for UVA. He won seven of his 13 matches last season. (UVA Athletics photo)

“And you bring in someone with that much enthusiasm and it makes it a unique experience for all. We were able to demystify this whole process for him.”

Montaperto, who wrestles at 125 pounds, won seven of his 13 matches last season. Off the mat, he’s racking up what he views as mini-victories all the time as he learns valuable lessons in the medical field.

Since being at UVA, Montaperto said he’s already shadowed eight doctors, including one who “stitched my face up last year,” he said. Last summer, Montaperto was able to sit in on a musculoskeletal anatomy class at the UVA School of Medicine.

“I got to literally use a bone saw on a cadaver,” he said. “These are unheard-of opportunities. This experience alone is going to set me apart from all other applicants for med school.

“I’ve had so many amazing opportunities and got to meet so many doctors and have built so many connections with these people. I don’t think that could have been possible anywhere else.”

Upon arrival to Paulson’s surgery, Montaperto did mention to Gwathmey that the operation could take away from his preparation for the anatomy exam.

Gwathmey assured the aspiring doctor he’d be just be fine. And he was right.

“I did pretty well,” Montaperto said. “I guess it helped that it felt like a review.”

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Bill Bunting

University of Virginia Athletic Media Relations