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Shannon's World - Raw: Traumatic Brain Injuries

by Shannon Coombs

Quick Facts:
Our research shows that NFL players and other athletes who suffered at least three concussions have triple the risk of clinical depression compared to those who had none.

Approximately 1.6 million sports and recreation-related concussions are estimated to occur annually in the United States. Athletes at all levels of competition frequently suffer this form of mild traumatic brain injury.

People with three or more concussions in their lifetime are more likely to suffer from depression and dementia.

Football is responsible for more than 250,000 head injuries in the United States. In any given season 10% of all college and 20% of all high school players sustain brain injuries.

Dr. Derek Shepard from Grey’s Anatomy ain’t got nothing on Dr. Julian Bailes. Dr. Bailes is the head neurosurgeon for both the NFL and the NCAA and the leader in the current (and long overdue) discussion about the terrible long-term effects of brain injuries and concussions in sports. And I was blessed to spend the last ninety minutes with him at the Brain Injury Research Institute. He lives in my hometown (Morgantown, WV) and I’ve heard about him for years. I’ve read articles written about him in GQ Magazine, Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and more, and watched him on ESPN, on network news programs, testifying before congress—but until today didn’t have the pleasure of meeting.

This man is on a mission to figure out how to prevent concussions and decrease post-traumatic stress to the brain after having one. Julian (as he prefers to be called) told us a little about how the brain works, how injuries affect it, and the aftermath of those injuries. He’s on a common path with the likes of Dr. John Bodnar and Eddie Casillas of the Asterisk Mobile Medics Unit, who have long championed awareness for this type of injury in motocross.

MX Sports is hoping to collaborate with Dr. Bailes and learn more about his expertise and how it’s being implemented in other risky sports like football and boxing. He is also working on supplements athletes can take to help reduce the side effects of head injuries. Right now he is promoting an omega-3 supplement called Brain Armor that was discovered at the WVU science lab. It’s loaded with 1,000 mg of DHA. Through extensive research, Dr. Bailes has found that taking the DHA supplement before a sporting event where athletes might be at risk (like before a football game or maybe a motocross race) and high doses of it after any trauma can decrease the damage while also increasing the healing rate. But I’ll leave the rest of what’s going on here to MX Sports and the Asterisk folks as they move forward.

I sat there and faded in and out of the conversation, I was really just there to listen and learn, but there were so many distractions in his office. NFL and college football helmets, plaques and awards, magazine covers he had adorned, skulls, and of course fake plastic brains. I was already feeling a little queazy from the two glasses of wine I had last night, and wondered what the heck he may have up his sleeve that might cure my brain from this tiny little hangover that I was feeling….

As I scanned his massive bookshelf of neuropathology, I snapped out of my own science-induced coma when Dr. Bailes said something about taking a tour of his research facilities. He had me at, “We’ve got a rat lab, would you care to see it?” The wanna-be surgeon in me perked up and said, “Of course!”

So we followed him down the very white and sterile corridor and into a lab that is shared with the WVU School of Medicine. He warned us that it may be a mess—and it did much resemble Davey’s desk.  There was a doctor from Japan in a far-off corner and Bailes said, “She’s working on a human brain, do you care to take a peak?”

That caused me to flashback to 12th Grade Science class on the day we dissected a pig. I was in my element. Of course I wanted a closer view!

“Well, yeah!” I pretty much shouted, and marched right over to see what some incredible person had donated to science. It was just the head, and the skull was open so she could fish around inside the brain to find out easier ways to get to different nerves, layers, etc.  He extended the offer to allow us to stop in during a real-life brain surgery—an offer I’m not going to turn down! Who knew Christmas would come so early?

We followed him out of the room, passing by a refrigerator that was -86 degrees and read, “This fridge is not used to store food or drinks.”  Mmmm, I wonder what they keep in there…. Definitely not Reese Cups and Bon Bons. My mind started to wonder of all the body parts that might be sitting in a vat of formaldehyde just waiting to be pierced and prodded for the love of science.

We entered the rat lab. Here we found a long white rat, pinned down by all fours with a tube down his throat. They were inducing a stroke on this specimen, a process that would take two hours. Then afterward they would test his brain tissue (however geniuses test that kind of stuff) to continue to figure out how they can save people from horrible diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. I felt a little sad for the little white rodent because I could see his heart beating through his fur. I never thought there would come a time when that would happen. But that little guy was making a big sacrifice for human kind, and I now realize they were put on earth for a least one really great reason, not just to get into our garbage and find the best piece of leftover Jarlsberg cheese.

Don't worry. I had to look it up too - Virtual Trainer

Today was by far the best field trip I’ve ever taken. It was a pleasure getting to hang with Dr. Julian Bailes. What an outstanding man. I look forward to following his success in this arena and maybe even helping him spread his word of his research, in motocross and anywhere else where concussions are a frequent problem.

About the Author: Shannon is the better half of Davey Coombs, the founder of Racer X Illustrated. She lives in Morgantown, WV and is the owner of a clothing boutique (Vance's Blues), helps run the family restaurant (Madeleine's), travels the World promoting health and fitness through her NuSkin business, writes a daily Blog, and raises her two kids. Busy woman with plenty to say. Enjoy!

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    lc444 March 05, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    interesting, yeah fish oil is a natural anti-inflammatory I always used it for my hands when riding. There are also some herbs that are natural anti-inflammatory.

  2. Gravatar
    jnmrk March 06, 2011 at 11:18 am

    is asterisk really pushing for awareness in this area? it appeared they helped JS7 back on his bike last night even after he fell over again trying to remount, why wouldn't there be a requirement that an athlete be cleared to go when he definitely appeared to be shaken at the very least and quite possibly having a concussion? I guess a points chase is more important. this is the 2nd time in the last 3 years that this has happened w/ James alone at Daytona(crashed on the start 3 yrs. ago I believe and was definitely shaken). so that's 2 incidences in 3 yrs. w/ the same rider at the same track, how many more are ignored?

  3. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 10, 2011 at 9:22 am

    I agree that there should be a policy in place to prevent a rider from continuing after he hits his head but it cannot be subjective. I think the AMA should look into each rider wearing a device on the helmet that measures acceleration and force and when the little red light goes off, you are DQ'd. That way its quantifiable for each rider and not left up to the medic team to make the call. I know they are doing this in youth football to teach kids to not lead with their head.

  4. Gravatar
    mxlaw March 11, 2011 at 5:32 am

    Shannon: Thank you for this important article. As a disability attorney all too often I see young people, especially our military, that have suffered a closed head injury, concussion or TBI and are either not diagnosed in the field or diagnosed late and the long term effects can be devastating. Because the equipment is better hits are soaked up and what would have been a fatal injury in prior conflicts results in a jarring type concussion that is shaken off and ignored. On the MX side every rider and every parent needs to know how to check the interior of the helmet after a hit to be sure that the integrity of the helmet has not been compromised by the hit so that the helmet is not worn to resume riding if it has been. Also I've been told that those "cool" helmets the young kids wear with the mohawk type ridge built into the top are dangerous because the hit is not dispersed thought the helmet as it is designed to do. Maybe a future article by a helmet expert on what to look for to see if the helmet has been compromised and how to select a helmet would be helpful. Hope this research continues so that more can be learned about how to treat athletes and others. I guess the message is that no head injury should ever be ignored and shaken off.

  5. Gravatar
    bobbym March 12, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    I got censored. Media or fanzine?

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