With head injuries and their devastating effects on athletes of all ages thrust into both the national and local spotlight in recent months, the Center for Health Innovation at Adelphi University in Garden City did its part to raise awareness and educate the public at a free lecture and panel discussion on March 30. Cohosted by Winthrop University Hospital’s Sports Medicine Program and held in front of a capacity crowd at the university’s Angello Alumni House, the event brought together several local sports medicine professionals and physicians and panelists. The event was led by NHL Hall-of-Famer Pat LaFontaine to answer one important question: How do we protect our children?
The event was the second rapid response symposium put on by the Center for Health Innovation this academic year in reaction to “urgent and emergent health issues” that are affecting or could potentially affect communities across Long Island, according to director Elizabeth Gross Cohn, Ph.D., RN. Gross Cohn set the tone for the evening by stressing the importance of a collaborative effort between all of the people tasked with handling and protecting athletes, a point that was stressed by all of the speakers.
“This is really going to take a community approach to solve this,” Gross Cohn said. “We need parents, coaches, doctors, scientists…we need everyone to think about the way that we can start to prevent concussions so that people can safely play sports.”
To begin the symposium, Adelphi graduate Dr. Michael Kennedy, a board-certified sports and emergency medicine physician, took the podium to provide an overview of concussions and the importance of a conservative rehabilitation process. Kennedy broke down the three grades of concussions, which are categorized by the length of post-traumatic amnesia and loss of consciousness. After an athlete suffers a concussion, Kennedy said, they need to be symptom-free during both exertion and rest. This “stepwise progression program,” which is different for every athlete, is also sport-specific.
“We all care about our kids,” Kennedy said. “If we keep people involved, you’re going to see more and more athletes come forward, talk about their injuries, talk about how they’re feeling. They’re going to get actively involved in their passion, which is playing sports in a safe way, and all of that is going to lead to good things.”
Expanding upon Kennedy’s points, Dr. Kevin Curley, attending physician at Winthrop, who also serves as the primary care sports physician for the university, delivered the keynote speech. Curley raised the importance of the physical, cognitive and emotional effects of concussions, while familiarizing the audience with the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool that was put into practice following the fourth International Conference on Concussion in Sport in Zurich, Switzerland in 2012. Following the keynote address, a panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Mark Grossman, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine who is currently the team physician for Adelphi’s NCAA athletes.
The panel consisted of LaFontaine, who played 15 years in the NHL for the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres; Don Gronachan, MA, the vice president of physical medicine sales of Biodex Medical Systems; Ann Cornell-Bell, PhD, vice president of administration of the Perseus Science Group; Javan Esfandiari, chief scientist and technology officer of Chembio Diagnostic Systems; and Rupi Johal, a primary care sports medicine physician in Winthrop Orthopedic Associates.
While much of the night was centered on the medical significance of concussions, LaFontaine emphasized his role as the “face” of concussions, having suffered several in his playing career.
“What comes with sports, unfortunately, sometimes is collision and impact,” LaFontaine said. “When I went through it as an athlete, nobody understood what was happening to me. I was lucky that the doctors intervened at the right time. As athletes, we have a warrior mentality, so parents, siblings, teachers and coaches need to be on high alert. A lot of times, the last person you’re going to hear it from is the athlete.”
Much like the medical professionals in the room, LaFontaine stressed the importance of the athlete’s support system when dealing with head injuries. While awareness and collaboration in treating head injuries was the prevailing theme from all present on the night, taking these steps is just the beginning in the fight against concussions.
“We need to work together to make our play, our sports [and] our recreation a safer venue, a safer experience for our children,” said Dr. Emilia Zarco, chairman of Adelphi’s exercise science, health studies physical education and sports management department in the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education. “The conversation must now shift to prevention.”
For more information regarding Adelphi’s Center for Health Innovation and its goals in local and regional healthcare, contact the office at 516-877-4582 or visit www.chi.adelphi.edu.