HUNTINGTON - Much of the skyrocketing scrutiny placed on concussion protocol in recent years can be attributed to the work of Dr. Julian Bailes.
The world-renowned neurosurgeon, portrayed by Alec Baldwin as a central figure in the 2015 film "Concussion," discussed preventing, understanding and treating brain injuries in sports during a public lecture Friday night at Marshall University.
"We've always had concussions," said Bailes, who serves as chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Illinois. "But the knowledge has just exploded in the science of how they occur, what happens to the brain, how it heals, what the symptoms are and the potential for long-term complications."
While concussions have been around as long as the human body, Bailes called it an important transition that laity begin to grasp the severity of brain injuries, though they show virtually no outward symptom.
"I think we've pretty much made some inroads, in that most people get it, that a concussion needs to be recognized and managed correctly, and that means pulling (the victim) out of harm's way," Bailes said.
No two concussions are the same, he noted, though most share common threads. While sports concussions have been most public in football and hockey, sports like baseball, soccer and basketball carry their own risks and, at organized levels, their own concussion protocol.
Major League Baseball, for example, has created the seven-day disabled list roster move with concussions in mind, allowing players a week for evaluation before reactivation.
Locally, most school districts in the Tri-State generally operate under the same concussion protocol for student athletes, said Dr. Andy Gilliland, sports medicine physician at the Marshall University Sports Medicine Institute.
These standards, less than a decade old, begin with a baseline test of the student's cognition at the beginning of each season as reference should concussion symptoms appear later on. In the case of a suspected concussion, athletes are generally evaluated by an on-hand athletic trainer or other trained expert to determine whether they should return to action or not.
Prior to the 2000s, Gilliland said, concussions were graded on a basis of severity, which often led to misconceptions in treating a "mild" concussion or a "severe" concussion. The medical field dropped the grading system in 2002 in favor of the simple blanket term "concussion" regardless of severity.
"Those who are privy to the knowledge know that a 'severe' concussion actually may get better in a couple of days and a 'mild' concussion may take months to get over it," Gilliland said. "So changing that rhetoric of grading allowed the public to process the information better."
The lecture was presented by the Marshall University School of Medicine and sponsored by Radon Medical Imaging.
Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.