- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In December, Bobby Jenks was not just fearful that his career was in jeopardy -- the right-handed reliever was terrified for his life.
The Red Sox reliever said Thursday that "a mistake" made during back surgery performed by a Red Sox-recommended medical team led to infection and an emergency second operation to correct what he termed a life-threatening situation.
Jenks had surgery to remove bone spurs in his back on Dec. 12 at Massachusetts General Hospital. The procedure was done by the hospital's chief of orthopedic spine services, Dr. Kirkham Wood. Jenks was back home in Phoenix a few weeks later when he noticed the incision in the middle of his back was leaking some kind of fluid.
The Red Sox pitcher bandaged it up himself and first thought nothing of it. But the problem didn't subside, so after calling the Red Sox, he visited a doctor and was rushed into emergency surgery on Dec. 30 to repair what Jenks said could have been a life-threatening situation. That procedure was performed by spine surgeon Dr. Christopher Yeung.
"It was pretty serious," he said Thursday at training camp.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said Thursday that the team was "very aware" of Jenks' complications.
"After the first procedure he stayed in Boston for a short amount of time," Cherington said. "He returned to Phoenix and appeared to be recovering, and then he had increased symptoms and was in touch with our medical staff and that's when we had him seen again in Phoenix. That's when it was determined he needed a second procedure. The second procedure seems to have resolved the issue and now he's in recovery and understandably frustrated that he's not further ahead. But we still feel he can help us this year."
"All I know is the second procedure needed to happen and that's unfortunate with any player that requires a surgery. You don't want to have to go back in there and do anything a second time, certainly (not) that soon thereafter. I can't speak to the specifics of what happened in the first procedure. It's not my area. There was something in there that wasn't taking the way it was planned. Got to go back in and clean it up again."
Jenks also had been diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism in September, and because of that issue he had to wait until December to undergo back surgery. Leading up to the surgery, he was working out and trying to get as physically strong as he could so his body could handle the procedure.
But Jenks was not expecting to have two surgeries.
"I don't know whose fault it was, but there was an error done inside," he said. "I had four bone spurs on my spine and we talked about taking the top two out. The third one was started but not finished, so basically there was a serrated edge that sliced me open in two different spots and I was leaking spinal fluid. (The spur) pulled off the bottom of my incision and blew up on me, which caused an infection to climb up that incision and now I had an infection in my spine. It was a combination of 'everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.'
"If I didn't have it done immediately, the infection could have gotten into my spinal fluid and up to my brain, and who knows what could have happened then? I could not be here right now."
Jenks is clearly not as bulky as he was a year ago. Asked how much weight he has lost, he said: "Enough."
When he entered his first spring training with the Red Sox a year ago, Jenks weighed 275 pounds. He was limited to 19 games because of three stints on the disabled list, last pitching for Boston on July 7.
"The worst part about it was having the two surgeries so close together," he said. "Everything was barely healing and we had to slice through it all over again. The second one was very, very painful. After the first one, at the 2½-week mark, I was feeling great. Everything was on track to where it was supposed to be and then that happened. The second one, my muscles were all torn open and I was basically laid up in bed and couldn't function."
Cherington said Thursday the club supported the reliever and is looking into what happened with the first procedure.
"Whenever a player is, whenever anybody is going through something like that, on that part of the body, it's a concern," Cherington said. "This is not a typical procedure for a baseball player. We deal with shoulders, elbows and knees all day, but this was a more delicate area. Aside from baseball, when you start to get into spinal issues it's serious and it's something that needs to be treated seriously and we have. I hope, at this point, that he continues to move forward."
Jenks did not rule out legal action.
"That's why I've got people," Jenks said. "I'll let them worry about that."
Hours after Jenks discussed his ordeal with reporters, Massachusetts General Hospital released the following statement:
"We are very sorry that Mr. Jenks experienced complications following his surgery, and we are glad that he is continuing to improve. It would be inappropriate for MGH to provide any specific information about Mr. Jenks' surgery without the consent of the patient and the Red Sox organization."
In the offseason, the Red Sox restructured their medical staff -- which has taken some criticism for the way it had handled past injuries to players -- formally announcing changes in January. As part of the reorganization, strength and conditioning coach Dave Page was fired, and Dr. Thomas Gill was stripped of his title as medical director.
Cherington said that Jenks' situation didn't factor in that process.
"The changes to be made to the medical staff were in motion well before his surgery in December and subsequent surgery," he said. "They weren't related to each other."
Cherington did not put a timetable on Jenks' return to action, but manager Bobby Valentine earlier in the week indicated it was likely the team would be without him until at least midseason.
"We're trying to help him right now recover physically, getting to be asymptomatic, getting his range of motion back and then we'll slowly ramp up baseball activities and a throwing progression. There's no timeline for it right now," Cherington said.
Jenks signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Red Sox as a free agent before the 2011 season and has pitched just 15 2/3 innings in a Boston uniform.
"It's just so frustrating," he said. "Obviously coming here, I never expected I would have a season like this. I just feel bad that coming here as a free agent, deciding and choosing to come here, and this is what the team is getting from me right now is disappointing and frustrating."
He's basically starting from scratch.
"Obviously my winter didn't go very well, so I just got here a few days early just to get as much in as I can," Jenks said. "I'm starting the season on the (60-day) DL so I've got plenty of time to try to get myself as right as I can."
His name was on the team's daily schedule along with other rehabbing players such as John Lackey and Stolmy Pimentel. Jenks is trying to strengthen the muscles in his back, but other than that, it's all light workouts for now.
"I'm very hopeful," Jenks said. "I'm hoping the second surgery went well and it's going to take. There's nothing I can do now but be here, rehab and try to do everything I can to be out there."
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Information from ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes was used in this report.
Red Sox reliever Bobby Jenks feared for his life when faced with emergency back surgery.