When the Mater Dei High School football team takes the field each fall, they have an invaluable resource standing on the sidelines with them, someone who is equal parts trusted advisor and guardian angel.
Since 1979, Dr. Carlos Prietto, orthopedic surgeon and CEO of the Hoag Orthopedic Institute, has volunteered his time as a medical resource for the Monarchs, providing often split-second decision making when injuries arise.
After obtaining his medical education at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine and completing his orthopedic residency through UC Irvine Medical Center, the Los Angeles native got his start 37 years ago with Mater Dei when he joined his cousin and fellow orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Pablo Prietto, at the school’s football games. Having sent his own six children through the Santa Ana-based Catholic high school, and now seeing many of his grandchildren attend the school as well, Dr. Prietto considers his contribution as a way of supporting his extended family.
“It’s been my way of participating in Mater Dei’s mission,” says Dr. Prietto. “I feel like I’m part of their family. They make it easy for me.”
Injuries are an expected part of life on the gridiron, so during the course of a football game, Dr. Prietto is at the ready, intently watching the plays and the players. If and when a Monarch player sustains an injury, he will immediately make an evaluation as to the severity of the situation and will make the call as to whether the player is available to get back into the game or not, and additionally, if they need further treatment.
“He’s a great decision maker for us,” says Mater Dei head athletic trainer, Mike Fernandez. “We look at the big picture, both the athlete, as well as the team. He makes those decisions a lot easier.”
In his 21st year in Mater Dei’s athletic training department, Fernandez has a solid working relationship with Dr. Prietto and stresses how his expertise is critical to the flow of each game for the team and the coaches.
“Decisions regarding the availability of injured players need to be quickly communicated to the coaching staff, so communication is key,” says Fernandez.
In the event a player sustains a serious injury, it’s Dr. Prietto who speaks with the parents, outlining the next steps for their child, whether it involves a trip to the emergency room or a next-day evaluation. Having watched his own son play Mater Dei football and his daughter cheerlead for the Monarchs, Dr. Prietto can easily relate to the parent’s concerned perspective.
“The expectations of parents can be one of the most challenging parts of this,” says Dr. Prietto, “but we all have their kid’s best interest in mind.”
With the understanding that each family has different healthcare resources, Dr. Prietto will often take his interest in the players a step further by contacting fellow orthopedic colleagues in the area to relay injury information, which will often expedite the treatment process for families.
“He does a great job of going over expectations so all parties involved can make an informed decision, especially when it comes to return-to-play decisions, be it during the game or later in the season,” says Fernandez. “He doesn’t want any of the kids to fall through the cracks.”
Beyond football, Dr. Prietto is a resource to all of the Mater Dei sports programs, as he makes himself available to meet with and evaluate the injuries of other Monarch athletes. Changes he’s seen over the years in high school sports include players who are bigger and faster, but also in better shape. Regardless, he’s always hopeful that the number of injuries stays at a minimum.
“A good year for me is when there are no injuries,” says Dr. Prietto.
Outside of interfacing with student athletes, Dr. Prietto also has a large influence on students on the sidelines who are studying athletic training, including Mater Dei students who assist at football games, as well as students from both Concordia University and Chapman University who are fulfilling required clinical hours at Mater Dei as a part of their accredited athletic training programs.
“They watch him in action as he’s evaluating the players, and then afterwards, he will talk with the students about his decision process,” says Fernandez. “He’s such a great teacher.”
As he nears 40 years on the Monarch sidelines, Dr. Prietto still finds joy in what he does and has no plans to walk away just yet.
“Being a part of Mater Dei and taking care of the kids in this way is a community service that I really love and enjoy,” says Dr. Prietto. “These kids are passionate, they work hard and they love what they do. It’s fun, and it’s very rewarding for me as a doctor. I’ll do it for as long as I can.”