08:00 AM

Concussion prevention hits home

On October 1, 2017, student athletes in Montana will have a new tool to help make them smarter and safer when it comes to head injuries. Kalispell Regional Healthcare (KRH) will roll out a new educational video to teach players, parents and coaches about concussions and the new statewide return to play policies for organized sports programs. Additionally, KRH providers invite all members of the community to learn more about a program called Save the Brain to expand this educational initiative. Experts in the field will be hosting a first-ever concussion conference on August 23, 2017, to up the game about brain injuries.

Save the Brain is a concussion prevention and education campaign brought to the Flathead Valley by medical providers at the Neuroscience & Spine Institute, a department of Kalispell Regional Medical Center (KRMC). This concussion prevention and education program provides tools and training for clinicians, educators, coaches and athletic staff, as well as for students and their families. The content and training materials have been created by health care practitioners and professionals involved in education and athletics who have a common interest in preventing concussion-related deaths and injury.

In June 2017, Gov. Steve Bullock signed Montana House Bill 487 into law, which will require every youth athlete, coach, official and parent to be better educated about the nature and risk of brain injuries, including the effects of continuing to play after a concussion. Montana lawmakers developed this policy with the help of Tom and Cyndi Steigers from Missoula, parents of Dylan Steigers. In 2010, Dylan played college football and died from head injuries sustained in a scrimmage that same year. He was 22 years old. Tom and Cyndi have been active proponents of increased education and safety among student athletes since then. With the support of Missoula physical therapist Jill Olson at Peak Performance Physical Therapy, the nonprofit Dylan Steigers Concussion Project was established.

“The creation of Dylan Steigers Concussion Project was already in in the planning phases before Dylan died,” explained Olson, as Peak Performance had launched a concussion project.

After Dylan’s death, his parents felt it would be a way to honor him and bring more awareness to head injuries in youth sports.

“I’m proud to be a part of this work, but most importantly, I hope we can collectively improve our education and awareness about these types of hazards on the playing field with parents, coaches and athletes. Those are the people that can help make the critical call when it matters most,” Olson added.

With the mission to educate, test and protect, the Dylan Steigers Concussion Project aims to protect the brains of Montana’s youth. The primary concern to Olson and her team is that too many concussions go unidentified, underestimated, marginalized, mismanaged and minimized. Ongoing, up-to-date concussion education will, ideally, empower health care providers, coaches, teachers, parents and athletes to make the best decisions in regard to concussion.

Concussions are the most common sports-related brain injury among 15- to 24-year-olds, and studies show that 5 to 10 percent of athletes will experience a concussion during any given sports season. Despite these numbers, concussions remain largely misunderstood and misdiagnosed. For example, most concussions occur without loss of consciousness, and athletes who have sustained a concussion at any point in their lives have an increased risk for another, similar head injury in the future. With this in mind, if parents and coaches are looking for unconsciousness as the only indicator for concussion, there could be a strong likelihood that these types of injuries go undetected while also compounding the risk in future sporting endeavors.

After my concussion I understand that I need to be more careful since I’m at a higher risk now. That experience also reminds me to look out for others. That’s part of being on a team.
Morgan Baker

Here in Montana, it’s also important to remember that head injuries are not only a risk with school-related play. With abundant outdoor activities that draw new families to the area, other sports such as downhill skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding and rock climbing pose higher-than-normal risks to athletes.

“Most sports pose a risk of injury on some level, but that does not mean student athletes should not engage in team sports or other outdoor adventures,” said Rachel Zeider, MD. Dr. Zeider is a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation with the Neuroscience & Spine Institute and has a strong professional interest in sports medicine and injury prevention.

Dr. Zeider explained that awareness and education can help bridge the gap related to risks and harm. That is why her expert team is enhancing the Save the Brain program – to provide a resource so parents, coaches and athletes can be better prepared with improved information.

Two upcoming efforts hosted by Save the Brain providers include the first-ever Concussion Educators Conference and an online training video and certificate that will be available in October to meet the training requirements for House Bill 487.

The Concussion Educators Conference will take place on Wednesday, August 23, 2017, from noon to 2 p.m. in the Lupine Conference Room at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. This is a free event open to educators as well as all members of the community. Content will include discussions and presentations about recognizing and coping with the effects of concussion and adapting to those who have sustained a head injury.

The video training available in October will allow parents, teachers, coaches and others around the state to educate themselves on concussion prevention, recognition and return to play regulations. Upon conclusion of the training video, viewers will receive a certificate of completion required by House Bill 487 to demonstrate improved understanding of concussion management.

Morgan Baker is a 15-year-old Flathead Valley student who is very active in sports. In the spring of 2016, she sustained a severe concussion that brought her to the KRMC emergency department for evaluation.

“I’m very competitive,” Morgan said. “My focus is on playing hard with a goal to win, but also having a great time. I don’t really think about brain injuries when I have my skates and helmet on, but after my concussion I understand that I need to be more careful since I’m at a higher risk now. That experience also reminds me to look out for others. That’s part of being on a team.”

In the long run, medical providers at KRMC’s Neuroscience & Spine Institute hope these tools will allow families and educators to be better advocates for young adults on the field and to save more developing brains in Montana.

For more information about Save the Brain, contact Jacqueline Vigil at the Neuroscience & Spine Institute, Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, at (406) 758-7035, email [email protected] or visit krh.org/savethebrain.