TUSCALOOSA – Jimmy Robinson, M.D., was the first Primary Care sports medicine-trained physician in the State of Alabama. One could say he’s seen a thing or two over the years.
Originally from New Orleans and a graduate of LSU, when Dr. Robinson first came to The University of Alabama, he faced a tough crowd but quickly found a new home.
“I came to The University of Alabama on a rotation as a medical student and realized just how strong the family medicine program was here. I knew right then this was where I wanted to come. It was an ideal family practice program. It had a little bit of everything I wanted from pediatrics to surgery…just everything. There were students from all over the country here for the same reason I was, and we all took advantage of that. We learned from each other. The things we can learn from each other, from other programs and places, is really amazing and should never be discounted,” Dr. Robinson said.
Dr. Robinson said he feels he was truly in on the infancy of sports medicine as a growing field as his work with the Crimson Tide continued in those early days. During his second year of his residency, he chose the one elective that changed the course of his career.
“There was one elective in sports medicine under Dr. Bill deShazo, who our sports medicine clinic is now named for here on campus. Before Dr. deShazo started with the Family Practice program he was with Student Health where he started taking care of the teams under Coach Bear Bryant. I spent a whole month on this sports medicine rotation without hardly ever seeing Dr. deShazo!” Dr. Robinson laughed. “Instead, I did everything the athletic trainers needed me to do. Every day during August practice, doing everything I could. Wrapping sprains, doing x-rays, whatever was needed, I did it. There were no other residents who wanted to do sports medicine, so when my rotation was up, I just kept going back, still doing whatever was needed, even if it was just evaluating a player who had a cold. I was happy with that.”
Eventually, the time came when Dr. Robinson decided to further his training in Sports Medicine by doing a Fellowship in Primary Care Sports Medicine. It wasn’t easy to find a program that would now meet the medical standards set at the Capstone. When he finally found that program, it was at The Cleveland Clinic where he trained with “two of the best sports medicine physicians in the country. We took care of the Cavaliers, Browns, Indians, and the high school football and hockey teams in the area. It was a lot of fun, and I never thought I would be working with hockey players, especially. Working with players that eventually went on to play professionally was very special to me. Keeping them healthy and watching them get to that level gives you a great sense of a job well done on your part as their physician.”
Still, sports medicine was not yet considered a true medical specialty and had a long way to go to get there. But, the best was yet to come.
“When I got the call to come back to Tuscaloosa, I think I accepted in about a nanosecond!” Dr. Robinson laughed. He was heading back to a city and campus he had fallen in love with years ago. He opened his practice in August 1989, and he knew that he had big shoes to fill. All eyes would be on him and his staff to take care of more than 500 student-athletes carrying on the Crimson Tide athletic tradition. But, Dr. Robinson had much more planned for his team.
As the medical director for all the athletic trainers at DCH Regional Medical Center, located just on the edge of the campus, Dr. Robinson and about 14 athletic trainers cover the city and county schools and hold injury clinics on Saturday mornings. Yes…that’s game day morning.
But, when the Tide rolls, everything else fades away.
“You’re so focused on the game and the players that everything just stops,” Dr. Robinson said. “The first thing I teach our Fellows and residents is that you are a physician first and a fan last. So all your decisions and all your actions have to be as a physician first, not as a fan…and that’s regardless whether it’s the first game, a homecoming game, or the National Championship game. It doesn’t matter. You cannot be a fan and take care of these players at the same time. You have to focus on the game, but not to watch the plays. You’re watching for injuries as they happen. There have been many times when an injury happened, and I was on the field before the play was called down. When you’re watching the plays for injuries as they happen, you’ll know if the player has a severe head or spinal injury, and you’ll know more about what to expect when you get to him. When you can see how the player hits the ground, you can anticipate what’s going to happen next. Believe me, I drive my wife crazy because I can’t just watch a game because I’m watching that game to make sure the players are safe.”
It’s easy to say that in Dr. Robinson’s 30-year career in sports medicine, he’s seen some horrible injuries. From fractures, concussions, paralysis, even Tyrone Prothro’s broken ankle in 2005, but nothing compares to the devastation of Wednesday, April 27, 2011. Known as the 2011 Super Outbreak, the Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado was a large and violent EF4 multiple-vortex tornado that devastated portions of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham during the late afternoon and early evening hours. The Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado was one of the 362 tornadoes that day, which was the largest tornado outbreak in United States history. The tornado reached a maximum path width of 1.5 miles during its track through Tuscaloosa, and attained estimated winds of 190 mph shortly after passing through the city.
Dr. Robinson was there. He was just across the river in Northport and had closed his practice at noon so his staff could get their children out of school. When he got home, his power was out. Because he was across the river from the direct path of the monster twister, he was unaware of the true devastation it caused…until he received a phone call.
“A friend of mine from Birmingham called and said that DCH had a direct hit from the tornado. I got across the river to DCH as fast as I could, but I was coming from the opposite direction from where the real damage was to the city. I couldn’t see just how bad it really was. When I got to DCH, the hospital wasn’t that bad, but the city was in trouble, as we later found out and could see from the news coverage,” Dr. Robinson said. “For a good long time, I was the only physician trained in musculoskeletal medicine working in the ER. We had everything from cuts and scrapes to amputations and surgeries to come through that day. It was a hard day.”
That day, one of the Crimson Tide players, long snapper Carson Tinker, was a patient in the ER, and he kept asking Dr. Robinson to find his girlfriend. Tinker and his girlfriend had huddled together at Tinker’s home during the storm. Dr. Robinson searched the hospital’s triage areas to no avail well into the night. He wasn’t the one that had to tell Tinker that she was one of the storm’s 52 casualties, but he was there for him.
“Of course, I feel a kinship with these players,” Dr. Robinson said. “They’re my patients first, always first, but a friendship develops, too. That’s something special.”