12/19/2011 05:37 pm ET | Updated Feb 18, 2012

Preventing Sudden Death in Sports

No topic is more important than preventing sudden death in sports. The Third Annual Youth Sports Safety Summit, held recently on Capitol Hill, brought together the leading experts in the country to present current research and practical clinical guidelines related to preventing and managing catastrophic injuries in sport. Topics included concussions and catastrophic brain injuries, exertional heat stroke, exertional sickling, sudden cardiac arrest, asthma and, the important topic of emergency preparation and planning to ensure that a plan is in place if and when these events occur.

The ongoing incidence of youth sports injuries and catastrophic events resulting in death has highlighted a need for immediate and improved health care on the playing fields and courts. Supported by 66 sports and health organizations, the Youth Sports Safety Alliance [1], formed by the National Athletic Trainers' Association [2], hosted the summit. The mission of the alliance is to raise awareness among the public, parents, coaches, legislators and media on the unacceptable number of catastrophic injuries occurring among this population.

Many of these injuries and deaths CAN be prevented. High school athletes suffer 2 million injuries, have 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations every year. Recognizing these injuries and taking immediate appropriate action is key, as well as having the availability of a primary health care provider on site when a young athlete goes down.

Concussion and traumatic brain injury has been in the spotlight, especially in the sport of football. Kevin Guskiewicz, Ph.D., ATC, director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presented current research findings on brain trauma and recommendations for screening and return to play decisions. In all, 36 states plus the District of Columbia have passed concussion legislation since 2009. The essential provisions of these acts include mandated removal from play with suspected or diagnosed concussion, mandated medical clearance for return to play, and mandated training for coaches, parents and athletes. More states are expected to pass concussion legislation in 2012.

Death as a result of exertional heat stroke CAN be prevented. That was the passionate message delivered by national expert Douglas Casa, Ph.D., ATC, director of the Korey Stringer Institute, University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn. Immediate recognition and immediate cooling are two key aspects to saving lives. Screening tools to prevent sudden cardiac death and exertional sickling were also highlighted in presentations, as well as presentations on exercise induced asthma and managing this condition during physical activity.

One of the key announcements at the summit was an early look at the soon-to-be-released "Preventing Sudden Death in Sports" position statement from NATA. The position statement was written by a team of national experts on these subjects. Drs. Casa and Guskiewicz served as co-chairs of the writing team. The goal of the statement is to present recommendations for the prevention and screening, recognition and treatment of the most common conditions resulting in sudden death in organized sports. The document outlines the top 10 major health conditions and causes of sudden death among athletes, along with updated recommendations to ensure better prevention and treatment of youth sports injuries. This is the first time this condensed information is provided in one document to help medical professionals, coaches, parents and others make more effective and efficient return to play and care decisions. The position statement will be published in the February 2012 issue of the Journal of Athletic Training. [3]

Sudden death in sports often CAN be prevented. There is no louder or more effective voice than that of parent advocates, many of whom have lost a son or daughter to one of these catastrophic injuries. Many have formed their own foundations; many have joined already existing state and national organizations. Their compelling stories and tireless efforts are an inspiration to us all.

The Youth Sports Safety Alliance Call to Action is to improve the safety and care of youth sports athletes -- on every playing field and court in the country. It takes the efforts of each and every person to create awareness, educate and effect change, ensure qualified health care professionals are on-site and to put an effective emergency plan in place. The lives of our young athletes are at stake!



2. National Athletic Trainers Assn.


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