Having started in the profession as a student athletic trainer at Blinn College (Texas) in 1963, Mike O'Shea should be retired by now.
It's a good thing he isn't — especially for University of Houston football player D.J. Hayden.
O'Shea is in his 17th year at Houston as the head athletic trainer. On Nov. 6, he was at football practice. Fortunately, during a full contact drill, O'Shea had his eyes on Hayden when the cornerback attempted to make an interception and arrived at the ball at precisely the same moment another defensive back did, both at full speed.
At first, it seemed as if Hayden had the wind knocked out of him and O'Shea assisted him to the sidelines. He regained his breath but continued to complain of severe chest pain.
“Something didn't seem right,” O'Shea told NATA News.
Fearful of a fractured rib, O'Shea put Hayden on a golf cart and drove him to the locker room. By the time they were there, the NATA News story continues, Hayden was also complaining of blurry vision and lightheadedness.
Having witnessed the hit, O'Shea Hayden had a head injury, yet the football player was now reporting symptoms of one in addition to his chest pain. Consequently, O'Shea consulted a team physician who, by chance, was also in the locker room.
Not liking what they saw, they dialed 911.
By the time the ambulance arrived, back pain had been added to Hayden's list of symptoms.
Upon Hayden's arrival at the hospital, the emergency room staff, already apprised of Hayden's evolving condition, did an ultrasound to Hayden's abdomen. Blood was discovered but its source unclear. Consequently, Hayden was immediately moved to an operating room.
Trauma surgeon Dr. Ron Albarado opened Hayden's abdomen expecting to find a lacerated liver or spleen. Instead he found a ruptured diaphragm — the muscle which separates the abdomen from the chest and largely powers breathing — and, worse yet, a torn inferior vena cava, the major blood vessel which returns blood from the lower body to the heart.
In at least 95 percent of cases, that injury, usually seen in motor vehicle accidents, is fatal. Nonetheless, two-and-a-half hours and 23 units of blood later, the surgery was successful. Just six days after that, Hayden was leaving the hospital.
He is expected to make a full recovery and to return to playing football.
But what if O'Shea hadn't been there, watching that particular play, with all his experience, which steered the initial steps he took?
Had he ignored Hayden's symptoms, even for a few minutes, the cornerback would have been one of the 95 percent instead of one of the five.
What would happen if a similar injury took place at one of the many high schools in the Calumet Region and metropolitan Chicago that doesn't have an athletic trainer every day at every practice and game?
And not just in football. The cover story in this month's Coach & Athletic Director journal reports an athletic trainer is eight times more likely to identify a concussion accurately than a soccer coach.
If your child's athletic program is able to afford administrators, coaches, secretaries, and custodians, it can afford athletic trainers. Better put, it can't afford not having them.
John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.