More than a game: symposium takes broad look at consequences of sports head injuries

Posted on Apr 26, 2011 in Health and Medicine

Top experts from around the country will be at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill later this week to teach athletic trainers and medical providers how to prevent deaths and serious injuries among high school and college athletes.

Top experts from around the country will be at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill later this week to teach athletic trainers and medical providers how to prevent deaths and serious injuries among high school and college athletes.

The inaugural Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Neurotrauma Symposium is bringing about 150 health-care professionals from across the Southeast and beyond for presentations from more than a dozen experts on Friday and Saturday (April 29 and 30). Registration for the sold-out event is closed.

The agenda represents a comprehensive overview of sports-related serious injury and sudden death issues, including brain injuries such as concussions. Between 1.6 million and 3.8 million sport-related traumatic brain injuries occur in the United States every year, estimates show.

Conference chair Jason Mihalik, Ph.D., assistant professor in the exercise and sport science department in the College of Arts and Sciences, said experts from a diverse range of fields – including the military, legal, medical, exercise science and coaching realms – will share their knowledge.

“Sport injuries, especially head injuries, don’t occur in an athletic vacuum,” said Mihalik. “Brain trauma can seriously affect every aspect of a student’s life, from their playing ability, to their studies, to their relationships with family and friends. Their whole future can change in an instant.

“Dealing with neurotramua is not just a sporting or medical issue. It’s going to take a lot of smart people from different fields to prevent these kinds of injuries and help kids that do get hurt to recover from them. That’s why we’re holding this meeting,” he said.

Mihalik is also a member of UNC’s Matthew A. Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center. The center is named after a Winston-Salem high school athlete who died from a traumatic brain injury in 2008 after suffering a severe helmet to helmet collision during a football game. Gfeller’s father, Robert, will speak on Saturday morning.

Experts will provide comprehensive updates, including diagnostic and management techniques and methods to reduce the risks and consequences of sports-related neurotraumatic injuries in young athletes. Presenters include:

  • Robert Cantu, M.D., an expert on sports concussions and their link with degenerative brain disease, which can result in depression, dementia and other mental health problems. Cantu is clinical professor of neurosurgery and co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine.
  • Gerard A. Gioia, Ph.D., an expert in assessing whether injured athletes should return to the classroom, not just the field, and the consequences for their learning if they return too soon. Gioia is chief of pediatric neuropsychology at Children’s National Medical Center, Rockville, Md.
  • Kevin Guskiewicz, Ph.D., an expert on sports-related concussions, their consequences and preventative measures. Guskiewicz is Kenan Distinguished Professor and chair of the UNC exercise and sport science department. He also is director of the Matthew Gfeller Center.
  • Fred Mueller, an expert in the epidemiology of athletic injuries and director of the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, which tracks national long-term trends in catastrophic injury data for high school and college athletes. Mueller is professor emeritus in the UNC exercise and sport science department.

The symposium will be held at the Swofford Auditorium in the Kenan Football Complex. The event is sponsored by the School of Medicine, the department of exercise and sport science, and the Matthew Gfeller Center.

The issue is also the focus of legislation due to be considered by the N.C. House of Representatives next week (May 3). The proposed Gfeller-Waller Concussion Awareness Act would promote the development of an athletic concussion safety training program and concussion safety requirements for interscholastic athletic competition. House Bill 792, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tempore Dale R. Folwell and others, is named after Matthew Gfeller and Jaquan Waller, a junior at J.H. Rose High School in Pitt County, who died from a traumatic brain injury after sustaining two concussions.

Symposium schedule:  http://tbicenter.unc.edu/MAG_Center/symposium_files/Gfeller_Symposium_PresentationSchedule.pdf

Media note and availability: Media may attend the symposium in the football complex. Mihalik also is available – by appointment only – for interviews and B-roll opportunities in the main training and treatment room in the Stallings-Evans Sports Medicine Center, 1-2:30 p.m., April 29 (Friday). Email jmihalik@email.unc.edu to make an appointment.

News Services contact: Patric Lane, (919) 962-8596, patric_lane@unc.edu
College of Arts and Sciences contacts: Dee Reid, (919) 843-6339, deereid@unc.edu; Kim Spurr, (919) 962-4093, spurrk@email.unc.edu

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