He was skating for Columbia University as a member of the Lions hockey team when it happened to him. Dr. Markus Chwajol was 23-years of age at the time when he sustained a concussion.
Many years later, Dr. Chwajol is taking the message out to the surrounding communities about the dangers of head injuries and specifically, concussions.
“The communities have demanded it,” Chwajol said before being the keynote speaker at the Morris Community High School auditorium for a meeting entitled Heads Up Concussions.
An assistant professor on clinical neurosurgery at UIC, Chwajol was one of several speakers on the night, which included facilitator Marji Hunnewell, Stan Meadows of St. Joseph Medical Center and Redskins athletic director George Dergo and team trainer Niki Meyer from ATI Physical Therapy.
“This is for schools who want to have a plan in place to take care of children with concussions. We want to educate them on it. There has been a huge demand for it locally.”
One of the first things Chwajol set out to do on Monday night was to dispel common myths surrounding concussions.
“The first myth I want to dispel about concussions is that it is severe when someone loses consciousness. Losing consciousness has nothing to do with it,” he said. “Breakthrough research is saying that it’s amnesia that matters the most. If you have that, it’s classified a severe concussion.
“Another myth is that there is no protection for a concussion. You can wear any helmet you want, but concussions are not due to a direct blow,” he added. “It’s the movement of the brain inside the skull … it’s when the brain moves and twists.”
He then went on to add that the are different ways to deal with certain concussions and that there’s no way to aid recovery, other than to avoid specific activities that trigger symptoms and to wait until those systems abate all together.
“They need to avoid the things that bother them. Whatever bothers them needs to be stopped, and they need 24 hours of rest from it,” Chwajol said.
Coaches from the high school and youth sports programs were on hand on Monday, as well as a local Kayak instructor — all wanting to know how to react to particular head injuries. The big key is that anyone with a concussion avoid sustaining a second concussion.
“It can be extremely dangerous with long term consequences,” Dr. Chwajol said.
That being said, Meadows mentioned the availability of the ImPACT Concussion program, even for youth out-of-school-programs.
“We ware working with local leagues to have them take pre-testing and then those who want can come back to us for a second test,” he said. “ImPACT testing is great, but it is just one of the tools in our tool belt.”
It’s a tool that MCHS has had in place since 2011.
“It was in the summer of 2011 after I went to Northwest Memorial Hospital to listen to guest speaker Dan Hampton,” Dergo said. “That’s when we started using ImPACT testing here. We tested all the athletes that year and this is our third year of using it.”
ImPACT testing involves athletes taking a baseline test and then, after sustaining a questionable injury, retaking a test and comparing that to the original. Tests usually bring like hand-eye coordination and both short and long-term memory into account. Dergo estimates that approximately 500 kids have been tested at MCHS since 2011 with approximately 50 re-tests. Of those, there have been “two or three” who have been out afterwards for more extended time.
“What we’re trying to say here is that it’s not the coaches’ decision … to stop the days where the coach would ask the player if they were all right and then send them back in,” Dergo said. “First, the IHSA officials can bring a kid to the coaches attention and then we go right to Niki. After we get a doctor’s note, our trainer still has to clear them to play. But a kid having a doctor’s note will usually work.”
Dergo said that is in place to prevent kids from showing up at school the day of a game with a note to clear a concussed player to player from an unknown doctor who has not been a part of the rehabilitation process.
A councilor is also part of the process at MCHS to make sure that the kids are being taken care of and that their symptoms are not inhibiting their classroom performance, either.
“It’s not just athletics,” Dergo said. “We have to worry about concussions and that the kids are able to read and write and get their grades up.”
Meyer mentioned that every case she has seen has “been a little different” and that it’s important to note that ImPACT results are “just a guide”. She then said that there’s a six-day progression to follow “so that they can do the things they are supposed to do and they can get cleared by the doctor to return back and play.”
Dergo and Meyer agreed that “a majority” of the re-test cases have been for football players but that “the more severe cases have been in other sports.”
“A concussion is an acceleration/deceleration head injury,” Chwajol concluded.
“We feel that this is a subject under a microscope right now and we’re just trying to fund the answers,” Dergo said.