Saturday, November 28, 2020

Concussion safety

Ain’t that a kick in the head or a stick to the chin?

Plattsburgh State women’s hockey freshman forward Melissa Sheeran returns to play this week after missing three games and a week of practice due to a concussion she received during a game against Cortland Feb. 7. Coming around the net in the first period, a push to the back caused Sheeran to trip over the goaltender’s stick and smash her chin off her own stick on the way down before hitting the ice. Though it sounds rough, this concussion is no match for Sheeran’s first two.

“The first one was pretty bad,” Sheeran said. “The second one was probably worse — I actually chipped my tooth.”

Like a true hockey player, Sheeran finished the game. Symptoms didn’t present themselves until hours later when teammates urged Sheeran to seek out the team’s trainer. Post-game, Sheeran felt normal.

“I was completely fine,” Sheeran said. “I went up and talked to my parents.”

Compared to Sheeran’s previous concussions, the recent injury is nothing. She’d be back sooner if not for the additional complications of having the flu.

“I couldn’t tell if a headache was from the concussion or me being sick,” Sheeran said.

Amnesia of any form comes up as one of the more serious complaints from concussed individuals, something Sheeran managed to avoid this time. Unavoidable were the headaches, vomiting and nausea. Other common symptoms include dizziness and vision problems, such as double, spotted or loss of vision. Head athletic trainer Jason Pachter summed up how to treat these symptoms with one word — conservatively.

“There is absolutely no exercise that we will allow the athlete to do,” Pachter said. “They have to be 100 percent symptom-free for a certain period of time.”

PSUC’s return-to-play protocol gradually prepares an athlete to return to their field of play. Once an athlete is symptom-free for 24 hours or more, depending on the severity and number of previous concussions, Pachter and the other trainers put the athlete through a hard exercise. After passing the hard exercise component symptom-free, an athlete must pass the ImPACT computer test before slowly returning to play. The process applies to athletes of all sports, treating full-contact athletes with extra care.

“We would be a little bit more conservative with a hockey player than we would a sprinter,” Pachter said, “but our return to play is still the same.”

Junior forward Giovanna Senese suffered a couple of concussions before coming to PSUC. Senese didn’t go through a lengthy, conservative process like the one Pachter employs.

“When my symptoms were gone, they let me go play,” Senese said.

Even for a more severe concussion, Senese returned to play quicker than had she received it while at PSUC. Senese didn’t pass the ImPACT test for a whole month. Once she passed, Senese went right back to playing hockey.

Senese sat out for a month. Sheeran missed just one week, enough to make her appreciate the team and the sport she loves most.

“It opened my eyes to see what it’s going to be like after hockey is over,” Sheeran said. “I don’t want to know that yet.”

Email Jess Huber at

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