Sakari Orava - court surgeon to the sporting glitterati
Orava, 64, is no stranger to operating on battered athletes
Sakari Orava from Turku is an internationally recognised sports injury surgeon and professor, and the services of his knife have been sought out by hundreds of Finnish and foreign athletes in trouble with their knees, ankles, and other limbs.
Before he was catapulted into the limelight on Monday as the man who was going to sew back together David Beckham's ruptured achilles tendon, Orava had performed the same sort of orthopaedic procedures - with rather less media razzmatazz attached - on a whole host of footballers, including several from Beckham's current club AC Milan, with whom the physician has a relationship dating back two decades.
Among those whose careers have been prolonged or rescued by Orava's intervention have been the former FC Barcelona and Spain midfielder Josep "Pep" Guardiola, who is currently the Barcelona coach, Italians Fabrizio Ravanelli and Pierluigi Casiraghi, and French stars Didier Deschamps and David Trezeguet.
On the athletics front, his patients have included Namibian sprinter Frankie Fredericks, Ethiopian distance-running legend Haile Gebrselassie (see linked article from 2004), and the Jamaican-born female sprinter Merlene Ottey, who appeared in no fewer than seven Olympic Games and took two of her nine Olympic medals at the ripe old age of 40.
Since a lot of the injuries that bring sporting greats to an orthopaedic surgeon's consulting rooms are - like Beckham's achilles - the product of many years wear and tear, the cases of Ottey and Gebrselassie (who was still setting marathon world record times at 35 in 2008) in particular are testimony to what a steady hand and medical science can achieve.
Orava has estimated that his success in the field has been in part down to an active mind and an enduring interest in the branch. It never does any harm to open one's mouth at international conferences, for example.
Over the years the man's reputation as a miracle-worker on troublesome joints has spread far and wide, and he has had no need to look for patients.
The best athletes and top coaching staff have him on speed-dial when they need help.
If he declines the desperate request, it might well be that the voice at the other end of the line squeaks: "But...but... we'll pay whatever you ask!"
Why on earth is it that everyone wants to come to Turku and Orava?
"Search me. I wonder about it myself at times, how it has come to this", the doctor shakes his head.
Sometimes the attention has gone way beyond the surgeon's own understanding.
In Finland, things have normally been quite low-key, at least until the Beckham case, but when he operated in Barcelona on the club's then star player Pep Guardiola, things were pretty hectic.
There were forty journalists and seven TV stations covering the press conference after the operation, and TV channels played the conference over and over for two weeks.
"From one night to the next, there I was on the screen, drawing pictures on a flapboard and commenting on the procedure. For a while there I was the most famous Finn in Spain", he recalled in an interview in Helsingin Sanomat on the occasion of his 60th birthday in 2005.
Orava was born in Kokkola in June 1945. He briefly flirted with a career in the arts, but in the end medicine won out.
His surgeon's hands have, however, been put to less constructive use in earlier years: Orava won a Finnish bantamweight championship title in boxing at the age of 17 in 1962.
He has consulting rooms in Rome and Madrid as well as in Turku, and in some cases he says that having an outsider in to work on a local hero is a safer option.
Occasionally the local physicians are so overawed by stardom that they cannot be sufficiently honest with the patients. No sports star wants to hear that his or her career is over. Then they call in someone from outside - like Orava.
"It is easier for a country bumpkin like me to come in and say: "I'm sorry, but it's over."
At 64, it will probably soon be over for Orava himself.
After 65 years of age, surgeons have to make a separate application for the right to operate on patients.
He has no qualms about letting go.
"Maybe someone will grant me an extension. Or then not. And I'll maybe then go off to Florence to study art history", says Sakari Orava, court surgeon to the world's sporting elite.
Helsingin Sanomat / Edited from articles published online and in the print paper of 16.3.2010
Previously in HS International Edition:
Orava confident of full recovery for David Beckham, but World Cup is off the table (16.3.2010)
David Beckham to face ankle surgery today in Turku (15.3.2010)
Distance running legend Gebrselassie in Finland for operation (24.9.2004)