KTEI concussion clinic shares knowledge and personal accounts

The guest speakers at Kenjgewin Teg’s ‘Heads Up: Let’s Talk about Concussion’ information night are, from left, Derek Debassige, Ryan Vandenbussche, Max Taylor and Nick Esposto. photo by Robin Burridge

AUNDECK OMNI KANING— Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute (KTEI) hosted an information session, ‘Heads Up: Let’s Talk Concussion,’ last week in Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) at the Four Directions Complex.

The event started with an opening prayer from KTEI Elder in Residence Josh Eshkawkogan.

Organizer Natasha Abotossaway welcomed everyone in attendance and thanked the speakers who braved the weather to come and share their experiences and knowledge.

Derek Debassige, clinical director of Manitoulin Physio, began the sessions and spoke throughout the evening, giving the audience key insight into what causes concussions, how to recognize a concussion, the medical ramifications and how to prevent injury.

“We have some awesome speakers here this evening, all with very interesting stories to tell,” said Mr. Debassige. “I have also had a few concussions, but I’m here tonight to talk about the medical side of concussions.”

Mr. Debassige spoke about how not all concussions are created equal.

Guest Speaker Max Taylor

“Through motocross I have seen some that look horrific, but the next day the individual is fine and I have seen others that don’t look too bad but turn into a bad concussion in the days and weeks following.”

Mr. Debassige also discussed how not all concussions are from a physical blow to the head, he noted one of NHL hockey player Sidney Crosby’s concussions, which was a rotation, but led to a bad concussion.

“There are physical, cognitive, emotional and sleep signs of symptoms of concussions,” said Mr. Debassige.

The physical side the symptoms include: headache, nausea, vomiting, balance problems, dizziness, visual problems, fatigue, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to noise, numbness/tingling and feeling dazed or stunned.

For cognitive, Mr. Debassige described the symptoms as: feeling mentally ‘foggy,’ feeling slowed down, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering, forgetful of recent information or conversations, confused about recent events, answers questions slowly and repeats questions.

Guest Speaker Nick Esposto

The emotional signs and symptoms are: irritability, sadness, feeling emotional and nervousness. And for sleep: drowsiness, sleeping less than usual, sleeping more than usual and having trouble falling asleep.

Mr. Debassige said that recognizing a concussion can be challenging, but that individuals should look for ‘red flags’ after an incident or if reported by a player: neck pain or tenderness, double vision, weakness or tingling, severe or increasing headache, seizure or convulsion, loss of consciousness, deteriorating conscious state, vomiting or increasingly restless or agitated behaviour. If any of the signs are presented an ambulance should be called.

He stressed that any athlete with a suspected concussion should be immediately removed from practice or play and should not return to activity until assessed medically, even if the symptoms resolve.

Max Taylor took to the stage next to talk about his experience with concussions and how they ended his hockey career short. A clip  was shown from the documentary ‘A Dark Room’ which features Mr. Taylor.

Mr. Taylor shared that he grew up in Ottawa and fell in love with hockey from a young age.

“I had my first concussion at Junior A tryouts,” he said. “I got hit from the side and blacked out. I took a week off and then went back—that one wasn’t that bad. Later on, I got a scholarship to play for St. Lawrence University (in the US).”

After graduating from St. Lawrence, Mr. Taylor played for the Texas Wildcatters of the East Coast Hockey League before being signed to the Toronto Marlies.

While playing for the Wildcatters during a playoff game (after being signed to the Marlies) Mr. Taylor got checked which led to him getting kneed in the side of the head by accident.

Guest Speaker Derek Debassige

“I got up and I tried to follow the play off the ice but when I sat down I felt so off,” said Mr. Taylor. “My body started giving out—my head fell and the muscles in my neck were giving out. The coach wanted to put me back out and as a player it was hard to say no so I did. I played well—I even scored, but when I got back to the bench my body started shutting down again—it was so bizarre. When I went back out on the ice—it was muscle memory—adrenaline. With 10 minutes left in the game  a stick hit me on top of my helmet. That was the point of no return. My body gave out and I couldn’t move.”

Mr. Taylor said tests were run at the hospital and the doctor said he didn’t have a concussion.

“I got sent home, but I knew I had a concussion,” he said.

When Mr. Taylor flew back to Canada the pressure of the flight was so bad that he said he was in tears.

With the help of a neurologist that treated a lot of NHL players he was able to get advice on how to help recover from his severe concussion.

He saw many different specialists but other than doctor visits he said he spent the rest of the time, five months, in the dark as any stimulation—light or sound—was too much for him.

“It was a long process, but eventually I built myself up so I could go for longer and longer walks with my dog—at first, though, I couldn’t even go 100 yards,” he said. “Five months later, in December, I was cleared to play.”

Mr. Taylor returned to the ice with the Marlies and was able to play 15 games before he got hit again.

The final hit ended Mr. Taylor’s career and almost his life.

It took him 10 months to recover, but he knew that he was never going to play hockey again.

“I got really depressed and went into a downwards spiral,” said Mr. Taylor. “I started having suicidal thoughts—which I never had before in my life.”

Mr. Taylor got so depressed that he put his knife against his chest one day and thought about taking his life.

“I love my life right now, so it is so hard to think about,” said Mr. Taylor. “I had thought I had lost everything at that time and I had hit rock bottom. Thankfully I put the knife down and asked for help.”

Mr. Taylor was able to get help and built a new life after his hockey career ended, but the effects of the concussions remain with him.

Mr. Debassige retook to the stage following Mr. Taylor’s speech, thanking him for sharing his story.

He talked about the importance of listening to your body and not returning to sports until you are ready.

Once an athlete is ready to return to sports Mr. Debassige said that they should follow steps as they are reintroduced.

Step one would be limited activity with light cogitative and physical activity. He said step two would be light exercise such as walking or a stationary bike. He said that this should be monitored and gradually increased and if there are no symptoms the individual can move onto step three.

Step three is sport specific activities with no contact, no jarring, no high-speed movements of force. Again, if there are no symptoms the individuals can move onto step four but if there are, they need to go back to the previous stage.

Step four is drills with no contact, but again if there are symptoms the individual needs to go back a step (this is the case with all six steps).

In step five, the athlete can return to the field or ice with contact pending medical clearance and in step six they can play regular competitive games.

The next guest speaker was Ryan Vanderbussche, a former NHL hockey player who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I had my first concussion playing hockey when I was 12-years-old and my most recent at age 34—I’ve had over 20 concussions in 22 years,” said Mr. Vanderbussche. “I’ve always had a passion for hockey, but I never thought I would play in the NHL when I was a kid.”

After being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1992, Mr. Vanderbussche fought to prove himself as a player, but in the process got in numerous fights and had many concussions.

“I was an undersized enforcer,” said Mr. Vanderbussche. “I wanted to prove myself.”

Mr. Vanderbussche described one of his concussions when he was left depressed after the game and couldn’t figure out why.

After signing with the Penguins Mr. Vanderbussche decided to start taking care of himself. “I realized that hockey wasn’t going to last forever,” he said.

Off ice one night, though, he got pulled into a fight after his cousin was getting beaten up.

“I got a kick to the face and I don’t remember anything else,” he said. “I woke up to a taser and a cop spraying pepper spray in my face—after I got hit I had punched a police officer. I was in jail for four days.”

Mr. Vanderbussche decided to make a change. He changed his life—retired from the NHL and settled down into a life with his wife and family.

“I can’t take back things from my life I wish I hadn’t done,” he said, “but what I can do now is to help others—teach the game of hockey in a safe manner.”

Mr. Debassige spoke to the audience about the importance of having the right equipment, noting that the type of helmet you wear is activity specific. He also talked about how important the fit of a helmet is and how most helmets are single use only (after being hit or an accident they need to be replaced).

The final speaker of the evening was Nick Esposto of Sheguiandah.

Mr. Esposto was drafted in the fourth round of the Oshawa Generals and was with the organization for over three years before moving on to play CIS hockey for Laurentian University.

Mr. Esposto spoke of his first concussion, which he got while playing for the Generals.

“I got hit from behind during a game and went into the glass,” he said. “I woke up in the ambulance and I couldn’t remember what month it was but I somehow knew my health card number.”

The doctor said he should probably not play for a couple days, but didn’t advise Mr. Esposto of anything else.

“I went to see the team doctor after and he put me through the concussion protocol,” said Mr. Esposto. “I had to stay away from the arena for a while because of the light and no television etc. The doctor then took me through the stages to reintroduce me to play. I luckily had no further symptoms moving forward and finished off my career.”

Mr. Esposto moved on to get his Masters in Business at Laurentian, but during a recreational hockey game got hit in the face with a stick, breaking his jaw in two spots and suffering a concussion.

In addition to surgery, Mr. Esposto was out three months with a concussion.

He spoke of how, like Mr. Taylor and Mr. Vanderbussche, he is very focussed on his health—eating properly, exercising and getting proper sleep as part of his long-term mental health.

The evening concluded with a closing ceremony by Josh Eshkawkogan.