NEW TOOLS TO GUIDE CONCUSSION RECOVERY
EMPWR Foundation aims to help victims get proper medical care
Some 20 years after suffering two concussions on the rugby pitch, Kathleen McGinn still experiences headaches and sensitivity to light.
The combination proved trying at times through her decade-long stint as co-owner of beerbistro — an eatery as lively as the name implies — in the heart of downtown Toronto.
“My recovery from the concussion was difficult, and I didn’t really get good care,” says McGinn. “If I had better care, I feel like I wouldn’t have some of the issues I have now.”
McGinn is hardly alone in her experience. An estimated 225,000 Canadians suffer concussions annually, with many of them turning to Dr. Google for help. There, they will find alleged “cures” that include everything from chocolate milk to cod liver oil to protein supplements.
“We have a serious problem with concussion recovery in this country,” McGinn says. “There isn’t a consensus on management. Patients are still in the dark.”
To bring light to the issue, McGinn serves as executive director of the EMPWR Foundation, a charitable movement dedicated to the advancement of concussion recovery in Canada. The foundation boasts a starstudded list of board members and ambassadors, including: Gabriel Landeskog, captain of the Colorado Avalanche; Dara Howell, Olympic gold medallist in freestyle skiing; and, Adriano Belli, who spent 12 years in the NFL and CFL.
The goal is to help the 225,000 Canadians concussed annually to navigate their recoveries under the care of a trained medical professional. Even family doctors — some with little in the way of resources or training in concussion management — can benefit from a simple-to-read list of milestones that chart a patient’s return to school, work or sport.
“We do need to keep in mind these are trained physicians, and they’re very good at their jobs,” says Michael Hutchison, an EMPWR board member and director of concussion program at the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic at the University of Toronto. “But I think it’s safe to say they are lacking the available tools and consistency in messaging about what to do. “The same goes for patients. “There’s a little bit of an expectation that you should recover within seven to 10 days,” he says. “If you don’t recover in that time, are you abnormal? Is there something really wrong? Will this ever go away? That’s when the fear comes in.”
Fear can often lead to desperate dalliances with Dr. Google.
“Searching for concussion health care on the Internet can be very misleading and dangerous in Canada,” says Dr. Michael Ellis, a Winnipeg-based neurosurgeon. “In Manitoba, we have a provincially funded pediatric concussion program that’s operated by health care professionals with licensed clinical training in traumatic brain injury. However, our research indicates that many concussion clinics in Canada are operated by professionals with limited or no training in traumatic brain injury and are offering a wide range of non-evidence based advice and services to this vulnerable patient.”
Over the coming months, EMPWR will release tool kits — developed through 15 years of clinical experience and research — to help guide patients, athletes, parents and clinicians through the recovery process. They include returning to physical activity, school, work and social life.