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Rowan's Law calls for concussion protocol in amateur sport

Baseline testing would be a good investment, says NHL veteran
2018-03-19 Rowans Law Scott Thornton GWS
Ex-NHL winger Scott Thornton is an advocate for concussion prevention and treatment. He suggests amateur teams should have athletes do baseline testing. Gisele Winton Sarvis for CollingwoodToday

Retired NHL hockey player Scott Thornton experienced several concussions during his hockey career. He knows the common symptoms of short-term memory loss, migraine headaches and extreme fatigue all too well.

So he was pleased to hear that all parties of the Ontario Legislature recently passed the concussion safety bill Rowan’s Law. Bill 193 calls for greater education and a code of conduct concerning head injury prevention and treatment in amateur sport.

“I think it’s valuable. I’ve always had concussion protocol in my sport,” said Thornton, who started his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1990 and concluded his career with the Los Angeles Kings in 2008. He now lives in Ravenna in the Town of the Blue Mountains.

The NHL spells out specific treatment and rest periods for first, second, and successive concussions, he said.

But concussion protocol in amateur sport is severely lacking across Canada, according to the website  Ontario is the first province to pass concussion legislation.

In contrast, every jurisdiction in the United States has concussion related legislation.

“There are millions of concussions in North America each year,” said Dr. Kristian Goulet of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

The bill is named after Ottawa high school student Rowan Stringer who died in 2013 at the age of 17 after receiving three concussions in the sport of rugby. She received her first concussion from a weekend tournament, but felt fine when she played again in a few days where she suffered a second concussion. She didn’t report the injury. She played again two days later and sustained a third concussion. She died of Second Impact Syndrome four days later.

A coroner’s inquest into her death came up with 49 recommendations.

The new law will construct an advisory committee that will review all recommendations and create a plan for how they will be implemented with respect to head injury prevention and treatment. The committee will submit a report within a year to the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

But Thornton said he would like to see athletes and their parents take a pro-active approach and get baseline testing done.

“In our sport we do baseline testing in training camp and then that’s your reference if you’re hurt.”

Thornton said he would like to see baseline testing done for any sports teams that engages in contact play and suggested the cost could be put together with registration.

Standardized testing is available through chiropractors and physiotherapists that treat concussions.

“It might be a very good investment for your kids. Maybe better than a new hockey stick,” Thornton said, adding that it’s useful for athletes in sports such as gymnastics, soccer, hockey and rugby.

Baseline testing is cognitive and tests for things such as memory and pattern recognition.

“When you are concussed, you really struggle with that,” he said. 

Brad Baldwin a chiropractor who treats people with concussions at Peak to Shore Physiotherapy in Collingwood said the law is long overdue.

“The real problem is that it took so long to get passed. We wish we had had this a number of years ago.”

Concussions have been treated and managed inconsistently for a number of years, he said.

“The law ultimately gives more safety to the athletes.”

Baldwin treats athletes with concussions typically from soccer, hockey, rugby and football.

“We also see it in car accidents.”

Even without the law, awareness of concussion in sport has been building for the last several years, said Baldwin, who has been practicing for the past eight years.

“From when I started to now, you are definitely seeing more awareness across the board whether it be from kids, their parents, coaches, trainers, teachers. Overall there is a higher recognition level, which is good.”

Baldwin said Rowan’s Law should fill the gaps in amateur sports that don’t already have concussion protocols. Once those protocols are put in place, “we shouldn’t see as many kids slipping through the cracks.”

Baldwin said there are expert concussion resources to draw from including the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, Think First Canada, Parachute and the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. There is also the Berlin Guideline on Concussion published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine that pools information from researchers around the world.

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Gisele Winton Sarvis

About the Author: Gisele Winton Sarvis

Gisele Winton Sarvis is an award winning journalist and photographer who has focused on telling the stories of the people of Simcoe County for more than 25 years
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