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An Athlete from Birth


Since the age of two, Hunter Pudlo has dedicated his life to baseball.

Athleticism runs in his blood, with a former collegiate hockey player as his father and a former collegiate volleyball player as his mother. Not only has baseball been the top sport in his life, but Hunter’s father made sure to put hockey skates on his son “before he could walk,” said Hunter. This led him to a 16-year hockey career. Mind you, he is only 17 today.

As a right-handed pitcher, Hunter trains three to four hours per day, six days a week. His intense workouts include strength training, conditioning, and baseball practice, all while staying on top of his school work.

“Pitchers have to be strong, flexible, and quick to be able to excel at the pitching movement of the body,” Hunter said. “Over the years, it’s become an art in my eyes.”

Hunter’s Life-Changing Diagnosis


Hunter grew fast as a kid, and always felt he had bad hips. In 2020, during his last season of playing hockey, Hunter began noticing rotational pain in his lower back. He went to a local orthopedist for an evaluation, and they told him he had a bone spur in his hip.

Bone spurs are small growths that often form along the edges of a bone in joints, making it painful to move the hips. Hunter didn’t feel quite comfortable with this doctor, so he went to Dr. Van Thiel for a second opinion. Hunter was intrigued by Dr. Van Thiel’s successful past work with other hockey players.

Dr. Van Thiel performed an MRI, which revealed to him that the bone spur was almost four times the size of a normal bone, and he also had another smaller spur on his right hip. This was causing a lot of damage to his labrum, the outer rim of the hip joint. However, this diagnosis still didn’t provide an explanation for the intense low back pain Hunter was feeling.

Dr. Van Thiel ordered a CAT scan to look a step deeper, and he diagnosed Hunter with an autoimmune disorder called ankylosing spondylitis, which causes inflammation and possibly vertebrae fusion over time if not treated properly.

“If my back had fused, my athletic career would’ve been over. Dr. Van Thiel changed my life with that diagnosis,” said Hunter.

Hunter’s Procedure: Hip Arthroscopy

Hunter underwent a hip labral reconstruction procedure by Dr. Van Thiel and said he has no hip pain anymore, besides his normal tightness.

This procedure is minimally invasive and involves rebuilding portions of the labrum so the hip can function properly and regain strength. The damaged debris and tissue are removed to improve range of motion and relieve pain.

Hunter said, “What was supposed to be a six-month recovery process of physical therapy took closer to four months since Dr. Van Thiel did a really nice job on my hip. By the sixth month, I was already throwing again.”


When it comes to his autoimmune disease, he got allergy tested and found out he is heavily allergic to grains, which can cause severe inflammation in the joints. Hunter made the lifestyle change to eat a grain-free diet.

Since then, he has lost 80 pounds and 80% of his internal body inflammation!

Heading Toward a Future of Baseball

“Dr. Van Thiel went above and beyond to help me, and he noticed many things in my case that plenty of doctors wouldn’t have seen. I will forever be grateful for him,” said Hunter.

Today, Hunter is preparing to graduate from high school and head off to Parkland Junior College, where he has received a full-ride scholarship to play baseball. His dedication to the sport is clear, as he has aspirations to eventually be chosen for the Minor League Baseball draft.

Hunter has a message to give to future orthopedic patients:

“Dr. Van Thiel is always committed to not only helping patients achieve their goals but to getting to know you as a person. He is beyond comparable to any other doctor, and will go the extra mile to help you whether it’s for a sport, or for a better quality of life.”

We hope to see you on TV one day, Hunter!

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