By Stephanie Gutierrez-Munguia
Capital News Service
RESTON, Va. – Hindy Shaman was in the stands of a tournament between the Reston Raiders Hockey Club and Rochester Americans in Bethel Park, Pa., when she saw one of the young players from the Raiders’ team fall and hit his head against the ice.
The volunteer “injury liaison” went down to the bench, where she performed a series of tests to determine whether the child was showing symptoms of a concussion.
“[An injury liaison’s] job is to help the coach. Watching the kids on the ice, pulling kids to talk to them further if they have been injured. That’s their job,” said Kaki Schmidt, a team board member and head of its concussion prevention program.
The volunteer job is just one piece of a broad concussion prevention program that makes the Raiders unusual in its focus on players’ safety, Schmidt said. The club also gets support from local doctors and athletic trainers, who answer parents’ questions and volunteer their time to conduct baseline testing of players’ cognitive function before the season and after suspected injuries.
“They do all of the baseline testing. They do follow-up. I think it’s great … how they’re tracking concussions,” said John Cole, president of the Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association, an affiliate of the Southeastern District of USA Hockey. The Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association governs teams from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Schmidt said she started the concussion prevention program five years ago with fellow hockey mom Lisa Weiss, after both of their sons suffered concussions from body checking. At the time, the aggressive defensive technique was allowed at the Pee Wee level — 11- and 12-year-old boys.
There are at least 50 teams across the Reston Raiders hockey club. Each team has two to four injury liaisons, Schmidt said.
Injury liaisons such as Shaman do not need medical training to perform a series of simple assessments to check if a player may be suffering a concussion, Schmidt said.
Each injury liaison performs a King-Devick test, a two-minute test conducted on the sidelines that requires a player to read single digit numbers displayed on cards, to check to see if there are any symptoms of head injuries. The liaison also asks the youth questions from a smartphone app called Concussion Recognition and Response (CARE Sport). Created by Dr. Gerard Gioia, director of the Safe Concussion Outcome, Recovery and Education Program at Children’s National Health System, the app walks users through a questionnaire that describes symptoms of concussions.
Youths suspected of having sustained a concussion are strongly recommended to see a doctor, Schmidt said.
When Shaman conducted these sideline tests on the youth checked at the Bethel Park Tournament, he was sluggish in responding, she said.
To be sure he was OK, she said, “I recommended that he [be held off] from any play and any physical activity” until he was evaluated by a doctor or trainer that works with the club.
Steve Willey, another injury liaison, said parents and coaches benefit from the program.
“They sort of put the responsibility on an independent third party, if you will,” to look out for the well-being of all the kids, while the coach continues to run the game, Willey said.
Schmidt said they collect data from injuries that occur at each of their games. In 2012, the Reston Raiders had 39 diagnosed concussions reported by injury liaisons. In 2013, 29 diagnosed concussions were reported. In the current season, Schmidt said 27 diagnosed concussions have been reported so far.
The numbers, showing a downward trend following the emphasis on safety, were encouraging, Schmidt said. “I think these were the results we expected from all of our efforts.”
Jon Almquist, a concussion specialist and athletic trainer whose concussion clinic works for the team by conducting baseline testing and other exams on children suspected to have suffered from a concussion, said he sees parents taking recovery time for their children more seriously now than when the program began.* Kids diagnosed with concussions are told to rest until they’re fully recovered.
“Truly resting the brain for three to four days following the injury, both cognitively and physically, seems to reduce the overall recovery time,” Almquist said.
A January 2014 study published in Pediatrics supported limiting extensive cognitive activity after an injury to improve recovery time.
* CNS incorrectly described Jon Almquist as a volunteer in an earlier edition of this story. Almquist’s company is paid for services provided.