Ontario committee to tackle concussions in youth

Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press
December 15, 2015
By Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press
Ontario politicians will create a committee to examine the dangers of head injuries after the death of Rowan Stringer, an Ottawa teenager who lost her life after suffering multiple concussions from playing rugby.

A coroner's jury last June made 49 recommendations after investigating the 2013 death of Stringer, who died at age 17 of "second impact syndrome" caused by multiple concussions.

Progressive Conservative Lisa MacLeod secured all-party support for Rowan's Law to create an advisory committee to examine how to implement the recommendations from the coroner's inquest.

MacLeod also lined up medical professionals and experts in the field of head injuries to speak in favour of the motion, and said parents, coaches and young people must be taught to recognize the signs and know the dangers of concussions.

She says people across the country have expressed interest in Rowan's Law because of the growing knowledge and concerns about the dangers of concussions, especially among young people.

The medical experts agreed attitudes are changing, and say professional athletes must lead by example and not try to "play through" a head injury so younger people learn it's important to protect themselves.

"We're seeing elite athletes coming off the field and say: 'I'm not going to play any more,'" said Dr. Michael Strong, Dean of the Schulich School of Medicine at Western University. "When that message starts to come through more clearly, then I think we're going to have made a huge impact."

Kids who "get their bell rung" while playing a game should be examined by a doctor and not participate in sports for several weeks, added Strong.

Dr. Charles Taylor, a neurosurgeon who advised the coroner's jury, said Rowan's death was "entirely preventable," and praised her parents for fighting to make sure it doesn't happen to another teen.

"They took off like a rocket ship to make sure that never again will a youngster die playing sports because of insufficient knowledge among players, teachers, coaches and parents about the recognition and management of concussions," said Taylor. "This knowledge must reach the field, the rink and the classroom."

Dr. Lisa Fischer, a sports medicine specialist in London, Ont., said the majority of concussions she treats are in youth.

"There's been a lot of attention paid to elite athletes, but the real problem and the real focus needs to be on youth," said Fischer.

"These kids are getting hurt and they don't understand concussions, they don't act on concussions or they ignore concussions, so teaching people how to recognize it and manage it early, I think will make a big difference."

An emotional MacLeod said Rowan's story is one that every parent in Ontario needs to be aware of, and thanked her parents, Gordon and Kathleen Stringer, for using their loss to help make the world safer for other kids.

"Their courage, their grace and eloquence throughout the tragedy of losing their beautiful daughter Rowan has not only been remarkable, but will undoubtedly result in real change," she said.

"In a cruel twist of fate Rowan died playing the sport she loved, but she saved other lives though by being an organ donor, and hopefully with the passage of this law she'll save even more."

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