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“Stay motivated. Don’t give up. You will prevail.”
Mike “The Bethlehem Brawler” Liberto is well known on the Mixed Martial Arts circuit. The 31-year-old was an elite high school wrestler and football player prior to moving on to the MMA, where he is an undefeated middleweight fighter. When he tore his ACL during a practice he thought he was finished. Then he went to Coordinated Health.
Mike had been invited to Florida to train with the top MMA fighters in the country. While wrestling during a training session on his first day there, his opponent jumped on his back and pulled his leg from behind. He heard three loud pops and felt searing pain. He knew immediately that his injury was bad.
“It was a scary moment,” he says. “I thought that my career was over.”
Mike got an emergency flight back home and saw a doctor in Lancaster. The doctor confirmed that Mike had torn his ACL and suggested a procedure in which muscle from his hamstring would be removed and placed over the tear. This surgery would require two separate rehabs and involve a long recovery time. Mike decided he wanted a second opinion.
“I’d heard about Dr. Luchetti at Coordinated Health from a friend. I did some research and was impressed that he worked with Lehigh athletes. I knew he would be able to get me back into the ring,” says Mike.
When Dr. Luchetti examined Mike, he found not one but two tears. In addition to the ACL, the MCL was also injured. He outlined a treatment plan for Mike. First they would address the MCL allowing it to heal on its own with the help of rehab. Once his MCL was intact, the doctor would surgically reconstruct Mike’s ACL using a cadaver graft.
Just seven months after the surgery, Mike is back in training, preparing for his next boxing match.
“I had some dark moments when I questioned whether I was going to be able to recover. But Dr. Luchetti was there, encouraging me every step of the way,” Mike says.
His girlfriend, trainer and MMA fans were also in Mike’s corner boosting his confidence and empowering him with their love and support.
“Mike is the kind of patient we love to have. He is motivated to recover and has worked really hard in rehab.”
Dr. Wayne Luchetti has been Lehigh University’s team physician for over 15 years. As a former athlete himself, he can relate to the physical and emotional challenges of recovering from a sports injury.
“I felt confident that with the advances in ACL reconstruction, we would be able to get him back into the ring,” says Dr. Luchetti.
“Dr. Luchetti kept me positive,” Mike says. “He never doubted I would come back.”
Mike’s first priority was to allow his MCL to heal and strengthen with rehab. When Dr. Luchetti was satisfied with that outcome, he performed a 30-minute procedure to repair Mike’s torn ACL using cadaver tissue.
Seven months later Dr. Luchetti gave Mike the go ahead to resume his fighting career.
“I am 100 percent confident that Mike’s knee is back to being where it was prior to the injury – if not better,” says Dr. Luchetti.
Mike is very grateful to Dr. Luchetti and the CH team. “I wouldn’t be here without them. Today I’m feeling good,” he says, adding with a laugh, “I just feel bad for the other guy when I get into the ring.”
“Mike loves to fight. This surgery and recovery is just another fight to him.“
Fight trainer Alec Morales first met Mike three years ago when he walked into his gym. He knew immediately that Mike had what it took to be an elite fighter.
“Mike has always been a great athlete and very focused on what he wants to do,” Alec says. “He takes his training seriously and works hard at it.”
When Mike called him and told him that he had torn his ACL, Alec was concerned. He knew that an injury like that could spell the end of Mike’s MMA career. But he also knew that Mike was a natural fighter.
“Mike has overcome a lot in his life,” says Alec. “I knew that he could beat this too.”
Alec followed doctor’s orders as he worked with Mike carefully and patiently throughout his recovery. When Mike told him that he wanted to fight a match only seven months after his surgery, Alec was amazed.
“Some of the best athletes in the world don’t come back from an injury like this for at least a year. And some fighters don’t come back at all,” Alec says. “It’s a testament to Dr. Luchetti and CH that Mike is recovering so well.”
Physical therapist Scott Wescott remembers his first meeting with Mike, just one day after his surgery.
“He was very apprehensive about his recovery and whether he would be able to return to MMA,” Scott says. “I reassured him that we would get him back. I started off by showing him some simple exercises he could do right away to begin building strength.”
With that kind of determination, Scott wasn’t at all surprised by Mike’s speedy recovery.
“Mike is an elite athlete,” says Scott. “When people come to us in as good shape as he is – mentally and physically – they have an easier time in rehab.”
Scott is quick to add, “I think Mike has a bright future in the MMA – and maybe even the UFC!”
“Mike is an elite athlete. I think he has a great career ahead of him.”