The careers of many international top athletes have been put back on track thanks to Mehiläinen Sports Hospital’s orthopedic surgeons. After all, the expertise and reputation of Finnish surgeons are recognised around the world. The prevention of injuries and the timely and appropriate treatment of trauma, either through surgery, rehabilitation, or a combination of the two, have been the goals of the hospital’s personalised and holistic treatment from day one.
In 1992, Mehiläinen sports clinic was founded in Töölö, Helsinki, when the expertise of orthopedic surgeons Heikki Antila, and Eero Hyvärinen, physiatrist Heikki Levón, and Aki Hintsa, who was in the process of specialising in orthopedics, came together. Through its own sports clinic, Mehiläinen strived to become the best sports medicine unit in Finland.
The clinic’s operations had a good momentum going: they signed agreements with, for instance, the top-level Finnish sports clubs Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi HJK and Tapiolan Honka’s football and basketball teams, which brought athletes in need of surgery and rehabilitation to their door. From the very beginning, the sports clinic also met the trauma treatment needs of the Finnish National Ballet.
The patient, not the doctor, was always the focus, and everything at the sports clinic was geared towards getting the best treatment possible for the patient. Top athletes gave the clinic renown, but above all, Mehiläinen wanted to create a place where all athletes could find the help that they needed.
In the 1990s, Heikki Antila was one of Finland’s most respected arthroscopic surgeons, whose competence and reputation brought many world-famous customers to the Töölö sports clinic. Such customers were for example the Ethiopian medal winners Heile Gebreselassie and Gezahegne Abera. Many of Antila’s medical colleagues also arrived to watch the master at work. They shared their knowhow by allowing everyone access to the latest knowledge. Later on, at the request of Gebreselassie and Abera, Eero Hyvärinen and Aki Hintsa visited Ethiopia, where they examined and operated on dozens of athletes.
The founding physicians of the clinic also took on other key roles: Eero Hyvärinen worked as the physician for Finland’s alpine skiing and freestyle national team, while Aki Hintsa was Chief Physician for the Finnish Olympic Committee. These jobs at the heart of world-class sports also meant that the alpine skiers Kalle Palander, Tanja Poutiainen, Henna Raita and Sami Uotila received treatment for their injuries at the clinic in Töölö.
A great setback for both the patients and work community was Antila’s demise from pancreatic cancer in 1995 at the age of just 48. Subsequently, in 2016, the same disease also took Aki Hintsa.
Sakari Orava joins the team
The operations of the sports clinic expanded in 2001 to Turku, in south-west Finland, after the local Tohtoritalo 41400 medical centre and Mehiläinen merged. The famed sports orthopedic surgeon Sakari Orava had been working at Tohtoritalo for years. Between 1998 and 2009, a group of younger colleagues interested in sports surgery began to gravitate towards him. During these years, many famous international sports stars visited Turku, the most prominent one being the football player David Beckham.
In 2011, when a new orthopedic Hospital NEO was established in Turku, part of the Mehiläinen’s sports clinic medical team transferred its reception and surgical operations there. Also Mehiläinen Sports Hospital and its operations continued as before in Turku. NEO has had high-profile patients, including the football player Fabio Coentrao, high jumper Blanka Vlasic, boxer Eemeli Katajisto and basketball player Teemu Rannikko. In spring 2017, Hospital NEO merged with Mehiläinen. This change brought all of Mehiläinen’s sports-related orthopedics under the Mehiläinen Sports Hospital name.
During his career, which spanned until 2019, Sakari Orava worked as a surgeon not only in Finland, but also in Spain and Italy. He had long-term collaborations with the football clubs AC Milan, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, among others. Dr. Orava operated abroad on such famous athletes as Haile Gebreselassie and Merlene Ottey, and the football players, and now top coaches, Didier Deschamps and Josep Guardiola.
In the final years of his career, Dr. Orava focused on tendon surgery in the lower limbs, in particular Achilles tendon issues and the treatment of muscles and tendon injuries in the hamstrings. He also transferred his special knowhow on these conditions to his colleagues Lasse Lempainen and Janne Sarimo, among other doctors.
New generation of surgeons in Helsinki and Turku
In Helsinki, a new generation of surgeons, led by Jari Salo and Mikko Kirjavainen, has opened a new chapter in the Töölö clinic’s operations. The team in Töölö has welcomed top atheletes in steadily increasing numbers. Among these top atheletes have been the fooball players of Huuhkajat, Tokyo Olympics athletes, ballet dancers of the National Ballet and professional basketball players and football players from Russia.
The special expertise of the Mehiläinen Sports Hospital team and Sakari Orava’s legacy are recognised especially in international football circles. Athletes treated by Dr. Orava, and in 2020 and 2021 by Dr. Lempainen, include football players Timothy Weah, Ousmane Dembélé and Roberto Inglese.
In spring 2019, the Mehiläinen Sports Hospital got its own premises on the 2nd floor of Mehiläinen in Töölö. In the new premises physiotherapists, sports medicine specialists, orthopedists and other specialists can all work together.
Surgeons currently operating at Mehiläinen Sports Hospital in Töölö and Turku are Tuomas Brinck, Janek Frantzén, Terho Kainonen, Mikko Kirjavainen, Lasse Lempainen, Juha Ranne, Jussi Rantanen, Mikko Salmela, Jari Salo, Janne Sarimo, Matti Seppänen, Antti Sommarhem, Eero Waris and Sikri Tukiainen. Dr. Tukiainen is the daughter of Eero Hyvärinen, the founder of the Töölö sports clinic.
Although a significant proportion of Mehiläinen Sports Hospital’s activities are focused on treating sports injuries, the team is also experienced in dealing with stress injuries and other health care for athletes. The idea is to combine multi-disciplinary experience and the expertise of not only surgeons, but also sports medicine specialists and physical therapists for the overall benefit of the athlete. Mehiläinen Sports Hospital provides preventive services, fast diagnosis as well as treatment and rehabilitation.
Sharing knowhow has always been part of Mehiläinen’s philosophy. In 2020, Mehiläinen Sports Hospital launched the first Fellowship training programme. The programme is intended to expand the competence of physicians specialising in orthopedics under the mentorship of the leading experts at the Helsinki and Turku units.
Throughout the years Mehiläinen Sports Hospital has employed not only orthopedists but other doctors and specialist as well. The Sports Hospital has also conducted research together with universities and participated in several scientific publications and doctoral theses.