WESTFIELD, NJ — When Michael Siroty, now a seventh grader at Roosevelt Intermediate School, was 9 years old, everything changed when he threw a pitch in a baseball game. He felt a pop in his knee. After he was misdiagnosed by a local orthopedist, Siroty went to Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan for a second opinion and was diagnosed with a torn meniscus and ACL. He had two surgeries, went through more than a year of physical therapy and had to sit on the sidelines for his favorite sports – basketball and baseball.
But Siroty managed to find a bright side. During a post-surgery visit to HSS, a chance encounter with NFL offensive lineman Jeff Allen led to a friendship that helped Siroty get through his recovery, and this friendship continues today.
Allen had traveled to HSS for a follow-up on bicep tendon tear repaired by the same surgeon who operated on Siroty’s ACL. Allen saw Siroty in the waiting room, and wondered what had happened to “the little guy in the wheelchair.” He asked the staff if it would be possible to meet him and perhaps offer some encouragement. Siroty was having his stitches removed, and the nurse thought it would be best if he wasn’t interrupted, but she relayed the message to Siroty’s father, David. Because the nurse wasn’t permitted to provide Allen’s identity due to privacy laws, Michael and David checked NFL injury reports online, determined that who they’d seen in the waiting room was the Kansas City Chiefs’ Jeff Allen, and David reached out to him on Twitter.
Allen immediately replied, and began e-mailing the younger Siroty, offering him reassurance, encouraging him to work hard in physical therapy, and sharing stories of his own surgery, recovery and return to football.
A year later, Siroty and his family went to Baltimore to officially meet Allen, who had traveled with the Chiefs for a game against the Ravens. They spent the evening before the game talking with the player. On the way home, Siroty thoughtfully told the rest of his family that even with their support, his long recovery was made much easier with Allen’s encouragement. And he wanted to find a way to help other kids in the same boat.
That’s how JAMSPals (www.jamspals.org) was born.
Named by Siroty, using the friends’ initials (JA for Jeff Allen, and MS for Michael Siroty), and “Pals” to honor their “pen pal” relationship, JAMSPals connects kids having orthopedic surgery for sports injuries with college and professional athletes. Siroty speaks to teams, coaches and players about his experience with surgery and recovery, as well as his relationship with Allen (now with the Houston Texans), in order to recruit players to communicate with injured kids up to age 13. These players then reach out to the kids they’ve been matched with.
Siroty also maintains the organization’s Instagram, and with some help from family members, the JAMSPals Facebook and Twitter. He shares photos and stories of athletes who are helping other kids – most recently two players from the Duke Women’s Basketball team, both sidelined with ACL injuries.
“My experience with surgery to fix my ACL and meniscus was really hard, and it was tough to have to do physical therapy instead of playing sports for so long,” said Siroty. “But knowing that Jeff was just a text or e-mail away made it easier. It’s exciting for me to be able to find athletes to help other kids, because I know exactly what these kids are going through. It’s not an easy road, but they’re going to make it. And if I can do something to make the road a little easier for another kid, I’m happy to help.”