Manitoba’s chapter of ThinkFirst not only takes the prevention message to the masses but it has the advantage of a strong connection with the national founder.
Its chapter director is Health Sciences Centre pediatric neurosurgeon and associate professor and residency program director Dr. Patrick McDonald, who studied under Dr. Tator.
"He's a unique individual because he does everything," says Dr. McDonald. "Not only is he an accomplished neurosurgeon, internationally renowned for his surgical skills and for how many lives he's saved that way, but I think he's saved even more with his injury-prevention message.
"In addition to that, as if being a busy neurosurgeon wasn't enough, founding, running and being the driving force behind ThinkFirst, he's led one of the world's leading spinal-cord basic science research labs. I always think of him first as a role model, but I don't know how he does it because he's got three or more full-time jobs that would be more than enough for any normal individual. He's the Superman of neurosurgery, I like to think."
McDonald says Tator is one of the most compassionate people he's ever met.
"When I was a resident in Toronto, I went through a difficult time with an illness with one of my children and he took time out of his busy schedule all the time to make sure I was OK and my son was OK," McDonald says. "I think he's always lauded for his professional accomplishments but underneath that is just a wonderful human being."
The Manitoba chapter of ThinkFirst, co-ordinated by HSC nurse Jodi Dusik-Sharpe, goes to an average of 20-25 schools per year with a presentation on injury prevention.
"We try to get across how fragile your brain is and there are a number of demonstrations that do that," Dr. McDonald says, directing most of the organizational credit to Dusik-Sharpe. "Those demonstrations are helpful and in partnership with the province, the ThinkFirst injury prevention curriculum is in every school in Manitoba."
ThinkFirst Manitoba also picked an inner-city school in the last year and distributed free bike helmets, complete with personal fittings and proper wear instruction.
On the front lines, awareness about concussions is growing in large part due to ThinkFirst initiatives like the concussion road shows -- presentations and workshops that have been held in Winnipeg and Regina in the last two years -- held in conjunction with Hockey Canada, McDonald says.
"There is still, though I hope it's becoming less frequent, an attitude of 'I can still play,'" McDonald says. "I had an example just this week of a boy who had a concussion, who is still symptomatic, headaches, dizziness and this mental fog that is common with concussion.
"Of course, right now is playoff time in minor hockey and he and his parents are getting an unbelievable amount of pressure because he's one of the better players, to come back and play before he should.
"The message has to be that in the end, following the recommendations of return-to-play (protocols) after concussion is going to keep you healthy, keep your brain in shape and if... you're an elite player who has dreams and potential to make it to a higher level, going back too soon, if anything, is going to keep that from happening."