LAS VEGAS | As more than 15,000 of its 35,000 members gathered here last week, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association issued “The Inter-Association Task Force for Preventing Sudden Death in Secondary School Athletics Programs: Best Practices Recommendations.”
To be published in the Journal of Athletic Training later this month, the consensus statement is endorsed by 13 other organizations including the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and the National Federation of State High School Associations — to which the IHSAA and the IHSA belong.
Opening the press conference during which the document was released and referring to the 50-plus sports-related deaths which occur at the high school level annually, NATA President Jim Thornton, MA, ATC said, “Many are preventable.” While acknowledging success and winning are important, he finished by saying, “Sports safety has to come first.”
At that point, Thornton handed the microphone to Doug Casa, PhD, ATC, the director of athletic training education at the University of Connecticut, who guided the formulation of the statement. He was blunt.
“High school athletes are the largest constituent of athletes in the country and we’re not doing the best job of protecting them currently,” he asserted. “When medical treatment is undertaken at the high school level, the expectation is that care will be ‘competently rendered.’ A coach can’t be expected to provide that. The first 10 minutes are key and you can’t rely on an EMT or MD. They aren’t going to be there.”
According to Thornton and Casa, at nearly two-thirds of the high schools in the country, an athletic trainer will be. The two are extremely concerned about athletes at the other one-third.
Casa reported that 80 percent of deaths in high school sports are head, heart, or heat-related. “Add (sickle cell trait) and you have 90 percent,” he said.
“Why should a 26-year-old get better care than a 16-year-old?” he asked. “Over 80 percent of (high school) heat-related deaths happen in the first week of football practice.”
Casa has no doubt that if the best-practice recommendations are followed, care will improve and heat-related deaths will be largely prevented.
Speaking for the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, immediate past President Jonathan Drezner, MD, also focused on prevention — of sudden cardiac arrest.
“SCA is the leading cause of death of all athletes, all ages,” he said.
In a two-year study of 2100 high schools with AEDs on the premises, Drezner found one in 70 had an episode of cardiac arrest. “It’s a matter of when not if it will happen,” he said.
Half of those instances involved athletes. Overall, the survival rate was 71 percent and for athletes whose collapse was witnessed, the survival rate increased to 89 percent.
The lessons from the study?
“SCA is a largely survivable event,” said Drezner, who serves as a team physician for the Seattle Seahawks. “It is no longer acceptable if a high school doesn’t have an emergency action plan and coaches trained in CPR and the use of an AED.”
To review the document in detail, administrators and coaches should go to www.nata.org/sites/default/files/preventing-sudden-death.pdf.
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.