Hallmark Health and the Boston Bruins are teaming up, in an effort to give young athletes a head start when it comes to combating sports concussions.

As the official healthcare partner of the Boston Bruins, Hallmark Health have joined forces with the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions to educate more than 1,000 student-athletes, parents, coaches and athletic trainers on the signs, symptoms and management of concussions.

Over the past two years, Hallmark’s Young Athlete seminars have covered how concussions occur, what happens in the brain, symptoms, prevention, treatment, management, return to play protocols and short and long term effects.

In addition, the program recently received an added financial boost thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Boston Bruins Foundation. The funding will help Hallmark Health offer advanced concussion education and testing throughout the Greater Boston area.

“The Boston Bruins Foundation have been so supportive,” said Jessica Harney, Director of Rehabilitation Services for Hallmark Health. “Without their support we wouldn’t have made the strides that we have so far.”

Hallmark Health System recently purchased the ImPACT program (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing). It is considered the most widely used computer-based neurocognitive testing program in the world. Administered by trained healthcare professionals, ImPACT assists in determining an athlete’s ability to return to play after suffering a concussion.

Baseline testing is a valuable tool in concussion management, as it establishes the brain’s normal level of functioning. Hallmark Health offers this testing for individuals at its medical offices on Main Street in Medford, or at local high schools to test entire teams. Hallmark Health’s specially trained athletic trainers and physical therapists administer the testing for a nominal fee.

But it doesn’t end there. In addition, Hallmark Health continues caring for patients post-concussion with ongoing physical therapy. The multi-phase program addresses cardiovascular, strength, balance training as well as sports-specific movements to increase exercise tolerance without provoking concussive symptoms. Hallmark Health physical therapists work closely with the patient’s athletic trainer and physician to ensure steady progress towards a safe return to play.

Tackling the problem head on
According to Harney, the origins of this project can be traced back to 2010, when the state of Massachusetts was going through a process of enacting a new policy and law regarding head injuries and concussions for high school athletes.

Hallmark Health, which service five-area high schools (Malden, Wakefield, Northeast Regional Vocational, Pope John and Arlington Catholic) with athletic training contracts, opted to get involved implementing an education program on concussions and head injuries at their area hospitals.

The program drew plenty of interest, including former Boston Bruin Bob Sweeney, who is now the current Director of Development for the Boston Bruins Foundation. The former Acton-Boxboro and Boston College star played a key role in getting the program off the ground.

“As a former hockey player and having kids of his own and now coaching, Bob Sweeney was really was taken back by our efforts to reach out to the community and educate as many people as possible with our program,” Harney said. “He started helping us out, going on tour with us, if you will. He came to a lot of our education programs, spoke to athletes, coaches and really gave us a lot of support through the Boston Bruins Foundation.”

A year later, Sweeney awarded Hallmark Health with the grant that it used to purchased the ImPACT program, for high school athletes who needed base line testing.
In addition to the five-area high schools with full-time athletic training contracts, Hallmark Health is certainly not limited to its reach across the area. Harney notes that Melrose, Reading, Winthrop and Everett High School, have also expressed interest in adopting the program.

Since baseline testing began Feb. 1 2012, the program has garnered positive reviews.

“We’ve had outstanding response from the community,” Harney said. “People are calling to have their athletes baseline tested to protect them in the future should they suffer a concussion. We now have something to compare with concussion evaluations. Parents are really stepping up and caring for their kids with this.”

Crunching the numbers
According to Hallmark Health research, some 3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur in the United States each year. A concussion is a brain injury caused by a bump or blow to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. Those who play school or recreational sports, ranging from football, basketball, hockey and lacrosse to cheerleading or gymnastics are susceptible.

Steven Sbardella, MD, chairman of emergency medicine for Hallmark Health System, urges student athletes, parents and coaches to take concussions very seriously.

Symptoms of a concussion include confusion, loss of short-term memory, headaches, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting. Dr. Sbardella said treatment for concussion includes an evaluation in the hospital’s Emergency Department followed by a CAT scan and a follow-up appointment with a neurologist.

“Concussions are potentially very serious,” he stressed. “Anyone who has symptoms of a concussion should be taken out of the game immediately and be evaluated by a physician.”

According to Harney, baseline testing is the primary focus for Hallmark Health as they head into the summer months

“We have a lot of schools that are coming to us and have their entire school baseline tested,’ she said. “That’s going to be a huge undertaking for us this summer.”

“We’ll also continue to develop our concussion program, working with our physicians as well as our emergency room to develop a prompt care program for athletes who need to be evaluated post concussion, within the first 24-72 hours playing their sport.”

For more information on advanced concussion education and testing, call 781-395-7750.

-This story appeared in the March 15, 2012 edition of the Medford Transcript and was written by Chistopher Hurley.

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