A quiet epidemic 

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There is an epidemic in our midst that most of us are unaware of. Untold numbers of young people are suffering at an alarming rate. Many cases of the epidemic go unreported. The public, as well as the medical profession, have failed to appreciate the consequences of this problem and have been unaware of its significance and its long-term complications.

One could be forgiven for thinking these words apply to some disease in a far-off country. In fact they are words written by an eminent physician—Dr. Michael Lee, about a condition we see right here in our community.

And to what does it refer? An issue we here in Whistler are all too familiar with— concussion.

Lee has been evaluating patients with concussions for several years, has lectured at conferences and has had articles published in SportsMed — in short he knows what he is talking about when it comes to brain injuries, especially in adolescents. So to read that he is describing it as an epidemic is alarming. In the past year or so I have had direct experience with concussions. Just over a year ago my then 10-year-old son got a concussion skiing (not serious, thank goodness), then a friend suffered a very serious concussion, which to this day she is bravely battling, trying to get her life back, and just recently a Pique staff member became concussed.

There is no doubt that in the past few years there has been a paradigm shift in the way medical professionals have started to treat this condition. Some of this improvement must be laid at the feet of sports heroes such as NHL player Sidney Crosby, who suffered a serious concussion in the 2010-11 season that is still affecting his play. By raising the profile of the injury everyone sat up and took notice. A number of high-profile snow sport athletes have also had devastating concussions including 2010 Olympic snowboard cross medalist Mike Robertson, Canadian alpine skier Robbie Dixon and alpine U.S. superstar Lindsey Vonn.

Just this week scores of lawsuits involving thousands of former football players touched by concussions and brain injuries have been consolidated into one master complaint, setting up a massive and potentially costly case for the NFL.

It is now clear that post concussive care is absolutely crucial to recovery. But there are still big gaps in the diagnosis of the condition and its long-term treatment, especially when it comes to fitting all the pieces together for a patient to have time off work to recover and so on. Not everyone is an NHL millionaire, not every child has a stay at home parent.

According to an article in Maclean's at the end of last year, there were approximately 37,600 concussions in Canada per annum with 7,500 of those lasting more than two weeks.


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