Bristol Regional, Tennessee High Partner To Assist Athletes At Risk Of Sustaining Concussion

Bristol Regional Medical Center is partnering with Tennessee High School to enhance the safety of student-athletes, who are at risk of sustaining an injury that has potential long-term consequences.

Wellmont Foundation is assisting with grant funding that will enable the school to use a special program to measure a player's cognitive abilities. Todd Norris, Wellmont Health System's senior vice president for system advancement and the foundation's president, said this program will be a valuable tool for the school and medical personnel when an athlete suffers a concussion.

The support, initiated by Tennessee High, is helping the school tackle a health issue that has become well known in the National Football League but impacts high school athletes as well. The successful pairing of Bristol Regional, the foundation and Tennessee High has led Wellmont to consider expanding this safety program to other schools in the region.

Greg Neal, Bristol Regional's interim president, said he is pleased the hospital can support Tennessee High.

"Because of the care we deliver patients in our Level II trauma center, we understand how serious concussions can be," Neal said, "Now, with help from our foundation, we are able to further invest in our community's young athletes by providing a program that will offer an extra layer of safety as they compete on the field and court."

Specifically, this program will empower Tennessee High to develop a baseline of a student-athlete's cognitive abilities prior to the start of his or her season. This initial test can be compared to one taken after a player has suffered a concussion to help determine whether he or she has successfully recovered.

"We're not preventing concussions with this program or replacing the need for medical attention from healthcare professionals but rather providing education and another tool to assist physicians and school officials," Norris said. "It's a terrific way to supplement the excellent medical care these athletes receive before, during and after a game."

Tennessee High will receive 500 baseline tests and 150 post-concussion tests from the foundation.

"Sports are a wonderful outlet for high school students because they can build character, teamwork and leadership skills, but we want to be sure our athletes are protected as much as possible from the potential for reinjury should they suffer a concussion," said Paul Pendleton, the school's athletic director. "If a player has not fully recovered and sustains another hit, the potential consequences can be even more serious."

"With the use of software programs such as this, we could have baseline data on each student-athlete in our high school athletic program. This information can be used as a guideline for the medical team to safely and confidently return our athletes to play."

Norris said this evaluation system could serve as a model not only for this region but for other communities in Tennessee and Virginia as well.

The testing comes from ImPact, a national company based in Pittsburgh, which has accumulated more than 75,000 results and works with many professional sports leagues. ImPACT says the science behind its program was developed in response to a request from the NFL for neurocognitive testing.

ImPACT's website said head injuries are on the rise for athletes at all levels of play, with an estimated 4 million to 5 million concussions occurring each year.

This donation is the latest way Bristol Regional has assisted the community with concussions. In 2012, the hospital made a donation to Lebanon High School for the purchase of concussion-resistant helmets. Earlier this year, Bristol Regional hosted an injury-prevention seminar that included a presentation on concussions.