To head, heat, heart and history toss in holistic health and what comes into focus is the out-sized services provided scholastic public school athletes in Gulf County.
Head, heat, heart and history are the central tenets of assessing the wellbeing of athletes; holistic health was demonstrated last week at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.
Coaches from across the sports seasons gathered for a presentation concerning concussions given by athletic trainer Rick Williams with Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic.
The session dealt with the only the head, but it was a just the latest example of the growth over three years of a health care network that would be the envy of much larger cities and counties.
In a sense, the foundation was first poured three years ago when Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf in Port St. Joe began providing free athletic physicals to all Gulf County athletes, setting up multiple days to provide plenty of opportunities for all athletes to take advantage of the service.
By last school year the hospital was providing the free physicals and an orthopedic surgeon and physician’s assistant at county home football games, on-site care for any serious injury.
And this year, the physicals continue while the hospital is near a deal to bring a full-time orthopedic surgeon to the Medical Office Building on the hospital’s campus with an aim toward providing seven-day care and early morning appointments following athletic contests for scholastic athletes.
Further, the hospital recently brought on board Dr. Rachel Bixler, a Port St. Joe native who Williams calls, “A brilliant, true physician.”
“This coordinated effort started three years ago,” Williams said. “We feel confident Sacred Heart is committed to doing things the way they ought to be done.
“This is all part of a coordinated team approach. Communication at all levels is vital. Communication about that team concept is vital.”
Other players on the team provided assists.
Williams, through TOC, provides presentations on a host of injury issues, particularly heat-related and concussions, to schools in several counties and has worked for years on the sidelines and locker rooms of county high schools assisting coaches and athletes.
The Panhandle Area Education Consortium (PAEC) two years ago began providing the funding across its service region for IMPACT tests for athletes in all sports.
The IMPACT test, developed at the University of Pittsburgh, the leader in the treatment of concussions, is a multi-question test that measures normal brain function.
“The test provides a normal picture of how an athlete’s brain functions,” Williams said.
If athletes sustain an injury with concussion-like symptoms, an athlete must pass the IMPACT test – when compared to the baseline results it will reflect if normal brain function has returned – before being returned to competition.
And concussions, Williams noted, are not just an issue in football. Women’s soccer is second nationally in the percentage of concussion injuries and closing the gap into third place is cheerleading.
Cheerleaders comprise just 17 percent of all high school athletes yet 64 percent of traumatic injuries to high school athletes are related to cheerleading, Williams noted.
Further, a national study showed that roughly 9 percent of all injuries in high school athletics are concussion-related.
However, for football, 8-11 percent of all injuries are concussions, indicating, Williams said, “That football is not the bad actor.”
“This is an injury that should no longer scare us,” Williams said. “It is a lot safer to play now with all the information around today. We’ve learned more about it, what it is, how to treat it and how to manage recovery.”
The recent surge in outreach on injuries has been spurred by Florida lawmakers and the Florida High School Athletics Association over the past two years.
The Florida Legislature passed legislation mandating the FHSAA adopt rules pertaining to the treatment and management of injuries.
The FHSAA has in turn adopted those rules, including a form that must be filled out by parents or guardians and treating physicians before an athlete is returned to competition following a concussion.
“Part of the goal was to align big sports medicine groups to make sure medical safety is known throughout the state,” Williams said.