Tag Archives: AT’s

What’s A Life Worth To You? The Absolute Importance Of Athletic Trainers In High School Sports

{Editor’s Note: I can think of no one better to speak to the need and value of Athletic Trainers in high school sports than someone whose life was literally saved on the playing field by an AT. Kevin Saum can claim that honor. Kevin is a Knockout Project Round Table member and his bio is available on this page .- Jay}

By Kevin Saum

saummudMore than 50% of high school students in the United States do not have the luxury of having an athletic trainer on the sidelines of their games and practices.  Yet athletic trainers are standard in collegiate and professional sports.  This reality is highly questionable considering that the underdeveloped, youth brain is at the greatest risk of injury.  In addition, studies have shown that young athletes take longer to heal from brain injuries, compared to the brains of more physically mature athletes. Why is it that school districts and policy makers are willing to implement safety changes AFTER a fatal, or near death incident occurs?  I often wonder what would have happened to me if Miss Barba were not on the sideline the night I was injured.  I venture to guess that you would not be reading this blog post.

After reading The Concussion Blog’s March 4th post, which recognized March as National Athletic Trainers month and encouraged readers to give a shout out to their favorite athletic trainers, one AT immediately came to mind.  Despite my lack of punctuality, I would like to recognize an Athletic Trainer at a high school, “set in the valley” in Chester, New Jersey.  Suzanne Barba, “Miss Barba” to all the students, is West Morris Central’s Athletic Trainer of thirty years, and not only mends bumps and bruises, but also touches the lives of every athlete she tapes, rehabs and teaches. Suzanne is also responsible for saving my life in a high school football game on October 5, 2007.  I do not remember very much from this night, but it is a night that undoubtedly changed my life forever.

As an athlete, one place you never want to be is in the athletic training room.  Being in this room either means you are out of the game, multiple games, the season, and possibly forever.  Just ask Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers, what happens when you go into this room.  Players would rather risk their long-term health and careers to stay out of this room, and look  where that got Robert Griffin III. I was a senior captain and a product of playing in a sports culture, which frequently glorified playing through injuries.   I naturally felt obligated to play injured in what was our team’s last chance to make a run for the playoffs.  In week two of the season, I sustained a separated shoulder, and Miss Barba tended to this injury for the few weeks leading up to my last game.  In the meantime, I strained the rotator cuff in the opposite shoulder, which instinctively left my head as the only blocking/tackling tool to use.  Naturally, like any competitor, I refused to let these ailments keep me off of the field.  However, after playing with these injuries and leading every hit I made with my head, I sustained a concussion. It should be noted that I was never officially diagnosed with a concussion, because I did not inform anyone about the excruciating headaches I was experiencing.  I never told a doctor, my parents, my coaches and certainly not Miss Barba.  She would never have let me play if she knew about my headache.

As I have alluded to previously on this blog, I unsuccessfully attempted to suppress the pain with four Advil and ran out under the glow of the Friday night lights for what turned out to be the very last time.  Just before halftime in this game I received a significant blow to the head, which left me unable to feel my legs.  With my history of chronic leg cramps in hot-weather games, everyone assumed it was just another cramp, as my teammates helped me to the sideline.  Because of Miss Barba’s experience as an EMT and Paramedic, she knew my condition was something much worse than leg cramps.  Upon recognizing my right-sided gaze, a common sign of a subdural hematoma (brain bleed), Miss Barba called for Advanced Life Support, and luckily a helicopter was in the area, on its way back from another call.  The doctor on the sideline was initially surprised by this request, until moments later, when I began to seize.  Miss Barba’s role did not stop at calling for appropriate medical attention.  She was also the one assisting my breathing with a bag valve mask when I went into respiratory failure, because of the brain swelling that ensued from second impact syndrome. The breathing assistance prevented brain damage and ultimately saved my life.

At that time, In 2007, Miss Barba was only a part-time athletic trainer because she was also responsible for teaching health classes during the day.  Due to a lack of time and resources, this work schedule prevented her from implementing baseline concussion testing and working with athletes to rehab their injuries.  Fortunately, in the year following my injury, Miss Barba was made our high school’s full-time athletic trainer.  Now, thanks to Miss Barba’s exceptional work and overwhelming support from parents, our school has a very thorough graduated return to play (RTP) protocol for its athletes.  This RTP process includes input from the strength and conditioning coach, to aid in implementing the graded physical activity protocol. Athletic trainers and strength coaches spend a lot of time with athletes, both during the season and in the offseason.  During this time they get to know the athletes personalities and ability levels.  They can identify when athletes are not acting like themselves, similar to how parents can, but in an athletic environment.   ATs specialize in diagnosing and treating injuries, while strength coaches have a great understanding of each individual athletes physical capabilities.  This collaboration between AT and Strength Coach, during the evaluation of an athlete’s RTP, allows for an appropriately stringent evaluation. The intricacies of Miss Barba’s RTP procedure meet, and I feel exceed, the standards set in place by the AmericanAcademy of neurology.  As a result, Suzanne believes that athletes feel safer and more confident returning to their sports, after passing this test.

On average, 12 football players die every year due to heart conditions, brain injuries and heat-related causes. Most of these deaths could be prevented with an AT overseeing athletic operations.  Athletic Trainers carry AEDs on the sidelines and could save the life of an athlete who has a heart condition.  Without ATs, concussions cannot be adequately managed due to conflicts of interest that exist in sport. Although athletic trainers have limited control in preventing brain injuries, other than educating athletes, nearly all brain injury related deaths could be avoided if concussions are managed properly.  On hot summer days, AT’s monitor the heat index and have the authority to cancel practice if conditions are too dangerous.  In addition, ATs ensure athletes are properly hydrated, which also prevents heat-related deaths.

Recently, the AmericanAcademy of Neurology published their updated return to play guidelines for concussions.  Most notably, they make the following recommendations:

  • The use of baseline testing.
  • Immediately removing a player from play when a concussion is suspected.
  • Individuals supervising the athletes should prohibit an athlete with concussion from returning to play until a Licensed Health Care Provider (LHCP) has judged that the concussion has been resolved.
  • Licensed Health Care Providers should develop individualized graded plans for return to physical and cognitive activity.

These recommendations are based on research and when implemented, they undoubtedly will make sports safer to play.  However, without the presence of an athletic trainer, their feasibility and intended efficiency are significantly hindered.  Not all parents can afford to take their children to LHCPs.  Who will recognize and remove an athlete from play when a potential concussion occurs?  The coaches? Who are trying to win a game and have a million other things and kids to worry about?  Wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest?  Where is the accountability in returning an athlete to play without an AT? Are coaches now going to be responsible for recording injuries and validating their athlete’s medical notes?  Are physicians going to be responsible for administering graded physical activity tests, with no prior knowledge of the individual’s abilities? All of these questions are answered when Athletic Trainers are looking after players.

Clearly, every athletic program would choose to have an Athletic Trainer if they were not faced by budget constraints.  I owe my life to an Athletic Trainer, which is why I am very passionate about the issue.  Considering all the statistics in regards to the dangers on the sports fields and the obvious safety and life saving benefits an athletic trainer brings, I ask the school districts, policy makers and parents, how much is a life worth to you?

Alex Smith Link:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1426269-alex-smiths-benching-could-set-nfl-concussion-safety-back-for-decades?utm_term=NFL+Football&utm_content=NFL&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

RG III Link:

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/sports/Shanahan-Wanted-to-Believe-RGIII-Could-Play-Injured-185822561.html

AmericanAcademy of Neurology Guidelines:

http://neurology.org/content/early/2013/03/15/WNL.0b013e31828d57dd.full.pdf+html

Twelve football players die every year:

http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/05/17621060-12-school-football-players-die-each-year-study-finds?lite

 

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 Suzanne Barba takes care of Michael Burton, who currently plays fullback at Rutgers University

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I think she did a good job. Ed Mulholland/US Presswire Photo