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Concussion centre to ease worried parents' minds

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Blue Bombers' RB coach Buck Pierce and Premier Greg Selinger attend Thursday's opening.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Blue Bombers' RB coach Buck Pierce and Premier Greg Selinger attend Thursday's opening. Photo Store

If a child has suffered a concussion, how do you know when it's safe to return to the hockey arena or the football field?

What actions during a hockey game are more likely to lead a player to suffer a concussion?

What effect does a concussion have on a child's ability to learn in school?

Those are just some of the questions about to be tackled by a new concussion centre for children and youths in Winnipeg that will also provide the most expert treatment available anywhere for injured kids.

"The biggest question that we've been asked by parents is 'Is it safe for my child to go out and play tonight?' And quite frankly, we couldn't answer that. So we needed to get a program put in place," said Dr. Wayne Hildahl, chief executive officer of Pan Am Clinic.

The new centre for concussion treatment and research was officially opened Thursday at the MTS Iceplex. It's expected to be most comprehensive program of its kind in North America.

'The problem with concussion is that we don't have a test to diagnose it'

—Dr. Wayne Hildahl

Despite the considerable attention paid to concussions in professional sports -- NHL star Sidney Crosby's woes a few years ago come to mind -- there is so much yet to learn about these traumatic brain injuries.

"The problem with concussion is that we don't have a test to diagnose it. There's no X-ray. There's no CT (scan), there's no MRI. So it's a clinical diagnosis, and it's not very scientific," said Hildahl.

He said the new program will try to develop a test so doctors can know when a brain injury is healed and a young athlete is fit to play once again. Part of the research, in collaboration with experts in Toronto, will focus on blood flows in the brain.

The centre will focus on the prevention of brain injuries. Its location at the MTS Iceplex will aid in that research. "We can put sensors in helmets. We can put cameras around the rink and see when those injuries happen... " Hildahl said.

The centre will also work with schools to research how a concussion can affect a child's studies and what should be done to return kids to school at a pace that's right for them.

Pan Am Clinic will operate the centre in partnership with several groups, including the Kleysen Institute for Advanced Medicine at Health Sciences Centre, Children's Hospital, the Winnipeg School Division and True North Sports & Entertainment.

Currently, the centre is only seeing patients who have been referred by doctors. For now, it recommends anyone who suspects their child has suffered a concussion to take them to Children's Hospital.

"Until we've kind of brought all the other emergency rooms online, Children's Hospital is the place to go with the highest levels of expertise diagnosing these conditions," said Dr. Michael Ellis, a neurosurgeon who left Toronto to become the medical director of the new centre.

Children's Hospital will automatically refer kids diagnosed with concussions to the new Pan Am facility.

Ellis said the centre will elevate the level of care for Manitoba patients, exposing them to a series of specialists who are expert in their field.

Currently, there are no standards for who can treat a concussion, he said. It may be someone trained in traumatic brain injury, or someone interested in the condition who puts up a shingle.

"I think that presents a little bit of danger in terms of some of the people that are seeing patients. They may not have sufficient training to do that," Ellis said.

The new centre will change that, he said.

Among those on hand for Thursday's official opening were Premier Greg Selinger, whose government contributed $1 million in funding, Blue Bomber running backs coach and former quarterback Buck Pierce and Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele.

Pierce, who first donned a football helmet at age seven, was no stranger to concussions as a CFL pivot.

"It's a hot topic. Everybody's talking about it," he said of the condition.

Pierce praised the new program as an invaluable tool in promoting greater understanding and improved treatment of concussions.

Anyone with symptoms can get checked out by "some of the leading medical professionals in the world," he said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2014 A4

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