Dr. Thomas Klootwyk looks forward to spending more time with his wife this fall, as it will be the first time in 23 years that he’s not one of the primary physicians working with the Indianapolis Colts.
Still, his decision to step down from his role as head team physician wasn’t an easy one.
“It just felt like this is the right time to step aside and let the younger, stronger, faster guys take over and do the job they need to do,” Klootwyk said. “It was the toughest professional decision I’ve made.”
Dr. Peter Maiers, a Carmel resident who has worked with the Colts for approximately 15 years, recently took over Klootwyk’s leading role.
“My goal as head team physician is to work with the team of sports medicine and medical specialists to maintain the respect of the players as Dr. Klootwyk has done so well over the years,” Maiers stated. “We want the athletes to know we have their best interests at heart. Keeping them safe and healthy is our priority – now and for the benefit of their long-term health.”
Klootwyk, who focuses on knee conditions, is still serving as a consultant for the Colts. Without the grueling NFL schedule, he can devote his full attention to the patients he sees at Forté Sports Medicine and Orthopedics in Carmel and Greenwood. Previously, he spent about one-third of his time working with the Colts during football season, he said.
A busy week
Klootwyk grew up in Bloomington, where he played football and basketball and developed an interest in sports medicine. He remained in his hometown to attend Indiana University for his undergraduate and medical degrees.
Now a Westfield resident, Klootwyk began working with the Colts in 1999 at the request of then-head team physician Dr. Arthur Rettig. Klootwyk replaced Rettig upon his retirement in 2017.
The most visible part of the job occurs on game days, typically Sundays, as Klootwyk and his team evaluate and treat injuries during and after home and away games. Most of the work, however, is done throughout the rest of the week. Responsibilities include follow-up treatments, meetings with team officials, physicals for new players and injury checks.
A longtime sports fan, Klootwyk said it’s important to remain objective when evaluating injuries on the sideline, no matter how much you want the team to win.
“When a key player goes down, you want to say, ‘We really need you!’ But you’ve got to say, ‘What’s the injury? Who is the player?’” Klootwyk said. “There’s a fine line there. You’re definitely a fan, but more importantly, you are a guardian for the player to make sure they are able to get on the field and do so safely. You’ve got to make sure you don’t cross that fan line.”
While some aspects of working with NFL players are unique, Klootwyk said there are many similarities in treating elite athletes and his more traditional patients.
“The treatment is the same. The goal is the same. What do you love doing? Let’s restore you back to that activity,” Klootwyk said. “The difference would be the access to the immediacy of care.”
‘A 23-year privilege’
As Klootwyk reflects on his time with the Colts, the 2007 and 2010 Super Bowls are among his favorite memories.
But it’s the relationships he’s built through the years – with everyone from the equipment staff to the players to the team owners – that he’ll miss the most. He described the Colts as a “great organization.”
“It’s just such a good organization from top to bottom,” Klootwyk said. “It was a 23-year privilege to be involved in caring for the football talent of the Indianapolis Colts.”
A week in the life of an NFL head team physician
Like NFL players, head team physicians settle into a weekly routine during football season. Drs. Peter Maiers and Thomas Klootwyk described a typical week as:
- Sunday – Arrive at stadium a couple of hours before game, assess injuries during and after game, communicate results to team officials, travel home if on the road
- Monday – Complete and review scans not done on game day, check on players injured on game day or those feeling sore following the game, develop treatment plans for injured players
- Tuesday – Physicals for new players
- Wednesday – Injury checkups
- Thursday – Injury checkups at Colts complex; meeting with team medical personnel, coaches and general manager to discuss player injuries and status
- Friday – Quieter day for responsibilities with Colts
- Saturday – If Colts on the road, travel to city hosting game in afternoon
Throughout the week, the doctors also treat regular patients at their practice.