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U-Hi trainer takes special care with head trauma

Sat., June 15, 2013

Scott Wardian is a certified athletic trainer who helps University High School athletes deal with injuries, as well as help prevent them from happening in the first place. (Colin Mulvany)
Scott Wardian is a certified athletic trainer who helps University High School athletes deal with injuries, as well as help prevent them from happening in the first place. (Colin Mulvany)

Scott Wardian has plans for the summer.

A certified athletic trainer with Performance Physical Therapy, Wardian doubles as the trainer at University High School, where he not only treats strains and sprains, he’s the resident expert on head trauma.

“Of all the things I do, I spend more time dealing with concussion than anything else,” he said. “It takes some work to stay up on it all.

“I plan to spend my summer putting together a plan and a checklist for kids recovering from a concussion. And I want to send information and, hopefully, meet with area physicians, if I can.”

The more medical experts learn about the danger head trauma poses to the long-term health of athletes, the more important it is to have certified professionals around to spot the symptoms and help manage the recovery process.

“Scott does a great job with that,” U-Hi athletic director Ken VanSickle said. “He’s the expert. He works hard to stay current on all the latest information about concussions.

“He’s the last word on the subject. If he suspects a kid may have a concussion, he doesn’t play. Period.”

In 2009 the Washington state Legislature passed the Zackery Lystedt Law, which states that athletes suspected of suffering a concussion cannot participate in athletics until they receive written permission from a licensed medical provider. That goes for all sports, not just contact sports.

While there are improvements in equipment, preventing athletes from getting a concussion isn’t necessarily the goal.

“I think people have the misconception that a football helmet protects against a concussion,” Wardian said. “That’s not what they were designed to do. They were designed to prevent skull fractures, and they do a very good job of doing that.”

Wardian’s job is to prevent an athlete from sustaining a second concussion before the first concussion is completely healed. The consequences of that happening can be dire.

Zack Lystedt suffered a concussion in the first half of a middle school football game, but returned to play the second half. He collapsed after the game and was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center for emergency surgery to remove the left and right side of his skull to relieve pressure on his swollen brain. He experienced a series of strokes and spent seven days on a ventilator. He was in a coma for three months, spent four weeks in a nursing home, two months in a children’s hospital for rehabilitation and did not speak for nine months. It was 13 months before he moved an arm or leg, 20 months on a feeding tube and three years before he could stand unassisted.

“I think part of the challenge is to get parents the information they need,” Wardian said. “I think they should know about the potential risks involved.”

Reaching out to area doctors isn’t about teaching people who already are experts, he said. It’s about trying to get everyone on the same page.

“Getting written permission isn’t the end of the process,” Wardian said. “Everyone recovers from a concussion at a different rate, but one of the things we’re learning is that you can’t just go back to playing full speed afterward. You have to work your way back. You run a little and then watch for symptoms. Then you run at half speed and check for symptoms.

“If I suspect that a kid isn’t completely recovered – even if (they have) written permission from a doctor – I won’t let them play. If you’re going to err, err on the side of keeping the kid safe.”

Wardian is happy to put together checklists and to reach out to local doctors, he said. It’s important work, and the information needs to get out.

“The thing is this: I can put together pamphlets and checklists, but to make it all work you need the school district to make the policy stick,” Wardian said. “The district has been supportive. But it’s a process.”

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