By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Knowing what to do when an athlete suffers an injury or illness can save lives. Those lives are entrusted to a “team” that doesn’t get credit for hits or points on the field — a collective support group that includes athletic trainers, first responders and team physicians.
A large contingent from that group assembled at the Rahall Technology Center on the Concord University campus Friday for the annual Sports Medicine Conference of the West Virginia Athletic Trainers’ Association.
They heard a huge amount of medical advice, the first batch doled out by physicians who serve Concord athletes’ needs.
Dr. Jim Kyle, a Concord alumnus now with the Beckley ARH emergency department, said, “We have a low index of suspicion.” He quickly translated that. “We take everything seriously,” he said.
In the first session, Dr. John Orphanos, a Charleston-based neurosurgeon, cautioned against spear tackling in football, in which a tackler drives his helmet into an opponent, usually face down.
That can unnaturally flex the would-be tackler’s neck. X-rays he displayed on Friday showed the abnormal curvatures, neck bones forced out of alignment, and fluid pressing on spinal cords.
He reviewed the recommended procedures for keeping the athlete’s neck immobilized while on the field. His practical advice included removing the facemask, but not the helmet itself.
He showed an image that demonstrated when a person is on his back, removing the helmet while the shoulder pads are still on will cause the head to tilt back, which can cause further injury.
If the pain and symptoms of a neck injury do not go away soon, surgery could be necessary. That does not always mean an athlete will never compete again, he said.
Referring to a spinal fusion procedure, Orphanos noted the case of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
“He’s a one-level fusion guy,” the neurosurgeon said.
He also described the source of “stingers,” in which, for instance, an arm or leg can go numb. He showed that where nerves branch out from the spinal cord, parts of the backbone “can compress and ding up these nerve roots, and cause these transient injuries.”
These transient, or temporary, injuries still require watching.
“Repetitive stingers can cause permanent impairments,” he said.
Dr. Maurice Smith, who once was an all-American in the long jump in college, talked to the group about “torso trauma,” including cracked ribs and collapsed lungs.
He said that taping the chest is no longer recommended to treat a broken rib, because it restricts air movement into the lungs. This can increase the risk of an athlete passing out.
The lungs are not the only organs that can be damaged by displaced ribs. Others include the spleen, liver and kidney, Smith said.
In addition to traumatic injuries to the torso, caused by a violent hit, there are also stress fractures that can stem from constant, repeated muscle movement — like a golf or tennis swing.
Kyle’s presentation focused on testing for a blood disorder known as sickle cell trait. That blood test is now mandatory for athletes engaged in sports in NCAA Division I and II. He reviewed cases in detail where death resulted from athletes who had the trait but were undiagnosed.
“This year we made sure at Concord University that all athletes are tested,” he said.
Dr. Joe Beckett, a Concord professor and director of its Athletic Training Education Program, said that “the team physician crew” at the university has been called on for more than game-day decisions. They also visit campus to talk to students.
“We developed an on-campus doctor’s clinic that we hold one or two times a week,” Beckett said. “The students, as part of their clinical experience, get to interact with physicians and ask them questions.”
The conference continues in Athens until about 5 p.m. today. This is the first time the annual meeting has been held in southern West Virginia.
— Contact Tom Bone at