- Posted February 6, 2013 by
Youth Sports Safety Alliance calls for athletic trainers in every school
WASHINGTON — On December 5, 2009, Brittan Sutphin’s heart stopped beating for eight minutes. The high school junior had been swimming in a practice relay when her friends and teammates saw her suddenly stop taking strokes and sink to the bottom of the pool.
Sutphin was pulled up and shocked with an automated external defibrillator (AED) on the pool deck. That saved her life and put her in a small minority of survivors of sudden cardiac arrest, the leading cause of death among young athletes, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
In an effort to prevent such injuries, the Youth Sports Safety Alliance is pushing for an athletic trainer and immediate medical care in every school. The plan, detailed in a report delivered on Wednesday to Capitol Hill, was designed by the alliance’s more than 100 member organizations at the group’s fourth annual summit in Washington.
The alliance, which was founded in 2010, proposed specific approaches to preventing the most common injuries among youth athletes, which result in more than 8,000 emergency room visits every day. Coaches, for instance, should be trained for CPR and defibrillator use.
“The bottom line is that we have to improve the safety of our student athletes, and that is our charge today,” said National Athletic Trainers’ Association President James Thornton. “Until we have incorporated every recommended step in this program, we will not stop.”
As the national discussion on traumatic brain injuries, or concussions, in professional and college football gains momentum, members of the safety alliance expressed concerns that the youngest, most vulnerable athletes are being lost in the shuffle. While members of the media focus on college athletics, high school players experience three times as many catastrophic injuries, according to the American Journal of Sports Medicine.
“We have this very vigorous national discussion about whether the NFL is too dangerous for participants … when the reality is we know for a variety of reasons that the games are much more dangerous for the young brain and the young people,” said Chris Nowinski, co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute.
Alliance members expressed concern about the readiness of schools and coaches to deal with what they identified as the four major types of life-threatening athlete injuries: heat and environmental conditions, substance abuse, cardiac events and traumatic brain injuries. Less than half of all high schools have athletic trainers available to students, and many lack necessary safety equipment.
The benefits of athletic trainers, a cornerstone of the alliance’s plan, are vital and can even be life-saving, as in the case of Tommy Mallon. Mallon, who suffered a catastrophic brain injury during a lacrosse game in May 2009, only survived the injury because of the advice of an athletic trainer, according to his mother, Beth Mallon.
Although the helmet-to-helmet collision he had with another player looked benign from the sidelines, the athletic trainer had the training to instruct Tommy not to move or get up.
“If [Tommy’s teammate] had pulled him up off the ground, the neck fracture most likely would have severed the spinal cord” and killed him, Beth Mallon said.
It’s this incident that has shown the Mallons the importance of immediate medical care and called them to start Athletes Saving Athletes, a member organization of the alliance that encourages peer-to-peer conversations about youth health issues.
“We’re in a situation where we are just so lucky, and everything on that day went right when it was a hair away from going wrong,” Beth Mallon said. “We had access to good care, and we want every athlete to have the access to good care.”
Sutphin, now a 20-year-old junior at Claremont McKenna College, also understands the value of good care. On the day of her cardiac arrest, she was lucky to be at the municipal pool, because her high school didn’t have a defibrillator. “If I had been at my high school playing tennis instead … I’d be dead,” she said.