Scott Orthopedic and St. Mary’s Regional Neuroscience Center Teaming Up to Protect Student Athletes Across the Tri-State
When former NFL great Junior Seau committed suicide in May, it put the spotlight on concussions and their effect on the human brain. It also reinforced the need for both proper diagnosis and treatment of concussions.
Scott Orthopedic Center Sports Medicine and St. Mary’s Regional Neuroscience Center have formed a partnership to provide local school athletes the best possible care for concussion testing and follow-up with the ImPACT ® Concussion Testing Program.
“Concussions have been underdiagnosed,” said Stanley S. Tao, MD, of Scott Orthopedic Center. “Now the focus is on repeated concussions and how they can lead to permanent injuries or depression. There’s a lot of thinking now about how concussions affect people after they quit playing sports.”
Meigs High School Head Football Coach Mike Bartrum knows all too well about the effect of concussions. The former Marshall University star, who played 13 years in the NFL, admits that he suffered concussions and that he “wasn’t very smart” about them.
“I had the headaches,” Bartrum said. “And I continue to have them.”
Now, Bartrum is trying to protect his players from making the same mistakes he did by having his players participate in the ImPACT program. “Anything we can do to help these kids we want to do it,” he said.
The program uses the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing system, the most widely used and most scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system. According to the ImPACT website, neurocognitive assessment “can help to objectively evaluate the concussed athlete’s post-injury condition and track recovery for safe return to play, thus preventing the cumulative effects of concussion.” International sports medicine experts have called neurocognitive testing the “cornerstone” of proper concussion management.
“A concussion is a traumatic brain injury,” Dr. Tao said. “No two people can present the same way. So it’s hard for health care professionals to evaluate athletes,” he said.
“Neuropsychological testing takes the guesswork out of answering the important questions. Did they have a concussion? What is the severity of the concussion? When can they go back to playing?” Dr. Tao said.
Developed in the early 1990s by Drs. Mark Lovell and Joseph Maroon, ImPACT is a 20-minute computer test that establishes a baseline of a student’s brain attributes before a concussion. The test measures memory and cognitive skills. When a student athlete suffers a possible concussion, he or she retakes the test. The score on the second test will dictate how the student is treated. Certified Athletic Trainers administer the baseline and post-concussion testing.
“It’s an invaluable tool that in the short term helps people return to play but also prevents long term damage,” Dr. Tao said.
Any student athlete who is diagnosed with a concussion will be referred to Scott Orthopedic Center for evaluation within 72 hours. After evaluation, any student needing further care will be immediately referred to St. Mary’s Regional Neuroscience Center for follow-up.
“Anyone who has a concussion should be evaluated by a specialist, said David Weinsweig, MD FAANS, a neurosurgeon with St. Mary’s Neuroscience Center. “You should never return to play if you have symptoms such as headache, forgetfulness or blurry vision.”
Dr. Weinsweig said a big danger with returning to play too soon is Second Impact Syndrome. SIS occurs when an athlete suffers a second concussion before recovering from the first, which is much more dangerous.
“It’s important to have the concussion recognized and for appropriate actions to be taken,” Dr. Weinsweig said. “A lot of symptoms are subjective and student athletes want to go back into the game. So it’s a real problem,” he said.
“Everyone, including the student athletes, coaches, trainers and parents, have to be honest with themselves,” Dr. Weinsweig said. “They may not realize it in the heat of the game and they may not pay attention. ImPACT is another great tool to help properly diagnosis a concussion.”
If a student is determined to have had a concussion, the treatment is rest from strenuous activity. He or she may also be taken out of the classroom to give rest from mental work and a MRI or CT scan may be done. The student will then keep taking the ImPACT test until he or she objectively performs at a level that is safe.
“The main issue is that no one should ever return to play with symptoms until after he or she is cleared by a specialist,” Dr. Weinsweig said.
Bartrum said there were a few times during his NFL days when he did the “follow my finger test” on the sidelines and then said he was okay to go back in—even though he probably wasn’t.
“I felt like if I didn’t go in, I’d lose my job,” Bartrum said. “I don’t want these kids to feel that way.”
Meigs is one of four high schools in Ohio who is participating in the ImPACT program. Fairland, Chesapeake and South Point are the others. Cabell Midland High School, Huntington High School, Point Pleasant High School, Wayne High School, Barboursville Middle School, Beverly Hills Middle School, Enslow Middle School, Huntington Middle School and Milton Middle School are the West Virginia schools participating.
Local schools and community teams can contract with Scott Orthopedic Center to have their teams tested. Because of the partnership between Scott and St. Mary’s, the initial baseline test is offered free of charge. During this initial rollout of the program, between 800 and 900 student athletes have been tested in a variety of sports, including football, volleyball, basketball, soccer and cheerleading.
John McClung, the athletic director at Fairland High School, is glad to be able to provide ImPACT to his school.
“It’s a great safety factor to add to our athletic programs,” McClung said. “It shows the commitment we have to our students. We take the safety of our athletes seriously.”
Concussion safety is something Dr. Tao has taken very seriously for several years after working with athletes from the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL, the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL, and as the Marshall team doctor. Earlier this month, Dr. Tao traveled to Pittsburgh to be credentialed as a Credentialed ImPACT ® consultant.
“It takes effort and teamwork to make the program work,” Dr. Tao said. “The cost can be prohibitive. But with the assistance of St. Mary’s, we have eliminated the cost to our local schools. It’s a true benefit for the community.”
“We as coaches and we as administrators appreciate it at Meigs Local,” Bartrum said. “We thank everyone.”
Bartrum said there are people he played with in the NFL who are now dealing with dementia and other issues related to concussions. He doesn’t want to see the same thing happen to his players.
“We want them to be successful,” Bartrum said. “We’re not going to take that away by not being responsible.”
For more information about the ImPACT program, contact David Proctor, MBA, ATC at Scott Orthopedic Center at (304) 525-6996 or 1-800-631-9014 or St. Mary’s Regional Neuroscience Center at (304) 526-1184.