Allison was an inspiring young athlete, having competed at the provincial level of snowboard cross since the age of 12. In addition to being a provincially ranked boardercrosser, she excelled in other disciplines of the sport. In 2011, Allison was the OFSAA champion for all of Ontario in giant slalom and in the same year obtained her National coaching certificate making her the youngest coach on the provincial snowboard cross circuit. Allison’s promising career came to an end when she was involved in a collision on a training run and suffered a significant concussion. It is highly unlikely that she will ever snowboard again.
She was wearing a top of the line helmet and did not lose consciousness. The initial 72 hours were the worst. No one could explain the pounding headaches, the debilitating dizziness, the nausea, the extreme fatigue, and general disorientation. Some excellent emergency doctors saw Allison, yet no test could tell them what was going on in her head. School was out of the question – in fact, Allison was unable to return, full-time, for the rest of the school year.
A few weeks later, she was fortunate enough to see Dr. Charles Tator in the Division of Neurosurgery at Toronto Western Hospital. Dr. Tator has devoted much of his medical career to the study of brain injuries and uncovering the mysteries of concussions.
Dr. Tator spent the next several months caring for Allison. He always made time to try and answer her ever-growing list of questions; however, too little was known about the long-term effects of concussions. The only treatment was time, and very little medical research to show that anything else would be helpful. The more in depth Allison’s questions became, the more she realized just how little research had been done.
Over the course of her recovery, she learned that a concussion is a brain injury. With multiple concussions, an individual can suffer long-term consequences, which could include a brain condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). This condition, which resembles Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, has been linked to premature death. Luckily, Allison does not have an extensive history of concussion and Dr. Tator does not feel she is at risk for CTE – but what about other athletes? She also learned that there is no formal protocol to diagnose the severity of a concussion, provide effective treatment for concussion, or prevent CTE if one is susceptible.
Finally, she learned that Dr. Tator initiated the Canadian Sports Concussion Project which is led by an exceptional research team of experts in the area of brain injury and concussion. This project is the world’s first program dedicated to a four-prong approach to concussions: research, education, diagnosis and treatment.
Allison is fortunate that her symptoms have progressively improved and she will make a full recovery. She even graduated with her high school class in June 2012. She will be attending university in the fall of 2013 to study science. However, Allison knows firsthand how little information is available about concussions, and that there is nothing more overwhelming than being told by highly skilled doctors that they don’t know how to effectively treat you. Now that she is coming out the other side of her ordeal, she wants to make sure that future athletes will not have to endure the torment of not knowing. She wants to give back and shed light on concussions, so that all athletes can enjoy the sports that they love. With the help of her parents, she has decided to help Dr. Tator and his team by creating the Allison Project as a way to raise awareness of the significance of concussions and to raise funds in support of the Canadian Sports Concussion Project.
Allison's fundraising goal will help establish a Fellowship for a period of one year on Dr. Tator's team that will focus on answering crucial diagnosis questions at the early stages of head trauma. This fellowship will allow a post-doctoral physician to contribute critical research in their specific area of study as part of the Canadian Sports Concussion Project. With this research, physicians will be able to translate the findings anxd implement strategies into clinical care.
Although there are many elements to concussion research, Allison's Fellowship hopes to focus on the initial concussion assessment in the early stages of head trauma, as this was the time when she felt most vulnerable.
All donations must be received by no later than April 30, 2013 and will be directed through the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation with tax receipts issued.
Dr. Tator will tell you that it is a neglected area in medical research. Even more startling is the fact that 30% of all brain injuries are sustained by children and youth, many while participating in sports and recreational activities, with 90% of all injuries being predictable and preventable. Yet, it is only now that parents, coaches and athletes are beginning to take concussions seriously. Maybe it was a result of Sidney Crosby's injury or the recent findings that some former CFL players were found to be suffering from CTE.
Imagine if we knew even more about concussions – how we could effectively diagnose them, treat them, and eventually maybe even eradicate them.
With the curtain pulled back on concussions, we have acknowledged the seriousness of this condition and that it can affect anyone, not just elite athletes. Concussions impact active children, parents, coaches, amateur athletes, and recreationalists of all ages. And, it can happen at home, at work or while driving... it can impact any one of us.
Regardless of your activity, with proper research led by the Canadian Sports Concussion Project athletes can continue to enjoy the sports they love, feeling confident that if a concussion should occur, doctors will know exactly what to do.
Allison is eighteen years old and sustained a concussion in sport. She is a former competitive athlete and the founder of the Allison Project. She is also a former patient of Dr. Charles Tator at Toronto Western Hospital.
Dr. Tator is a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto and a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital. At present, he is heading the Canadian Sports Concussion Project and is a leader in concussions and brain injury prevention.
Niall is the Executive Vice-President of the Daniels Corporation and Allison Haggart's father. Katherine is Allison's mother. Partnered with their daughter, they have assisted and supported the development of the Allison Project.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is caused by a direct or indirect hit to the head or body and is more common than you might think. When contact is made with enough force, this causes a change in brain function, which leads to a variety of symptoms. When a concussion occurs, there is no visible injury to the structure of the brain. This means that image scans such a MRI or CT will be appear to be ‘normal’.
What are the signs and symptoms of a concussion?
When a concussion occurs, not everyone will experience every sign and symptom. As well, victims may not feel the full impact of symptoms at the time of the injury – the onset of some symptoms may fail to develop for hours to days post-injury. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of concussion are headache, dizziness, extreme fatigue, light/sound sensitivity, nausea, and confusion. Doctors have labeled this reaction as “post-concussion syndrome.”
But I didn't lose consciousness, so I can't possibly have a concussion
Contrary to popular believe one does not have to lose consciousness to sustain a head injury. If a concussion has occurred, it may happen but it is not a diagnostic requirement. In fact, the majority of people who experience a concussion do not lose consciousness.
I was wearing a helmet and a mouth guard, so I can't possibly have a concussion
Helmets do help protect the brain and skull and may prevent other head injuries, however they do not prevent a concussion. When a concussion occurs, the brain inside the skull, jostles or rotates. A helmet cannot prevent that from happening. As well, mouth guards protect your dental work but have been proven ineffective at preventing concussion.
When they scanned my head, everything came back normal. I guess I don't have a concussion
False. In fact, it is a diagnostic requirement that the MRI and CT-scans come back normal when diagnosing a concussion. The reason doctors use these technologies is to rule out anything superfluous that might have occurred in addition to the concussion. For example, an MRI will detect brain hemorrhages, skull fractures, etc.… however, they do not explicitly picture a concussion.
My teammate was recovered from their concussion after 2 days so why am I not better yet?
There is no answer to this one. It is still a mystery why some concussions resolve after a few days, while others can take many weeks or months. Some might argue that it depends on where you hit your head, how hard you hit your head, or your body position when you land. However, the medical truth of it is that we just don't know.
How come you aren't back at school/work yet? You look fine to me.
No one lives inside your head but you. Just because someone looks okay on the outside doesn't mean that they feel okay cognitively. Often people suffering from concussion don't look sick, or have any visible symptoms, but it remains very hard for them to focus or read for long periods of time, making school or employment extremely challenging. It is up to you and your doctor to decide when to go back to your daily routines.
The Canadian Sports Concussion Project is conducting research on concussions. What could we possibly need to know about concussions? Some of the questions may include:
• What happens in the brain during a concussion? How come we can't see it on standard imaging equipment?
• Why do some patients take longer to heal than others?
• Why do some patients suffer a sever array of symptoms while other patients don't?
• Is there a genetic marker that makes one more susceptible to concussion?
• What are the long-term health implications of concussion? Will one be more at risk for Parkinson's or Alzheimer's later on?
• How does one develop CTE? How many concussions is too many?
• Are there certain distinct stages of healing over the course of recovery?
• After sustaining a concussion, how susceptible will one be to another concussion in the future?
Is there a way of measuring the amount of force needed to sustain one?
• What happens to the brain cells and axons post-injury?
• Is it the quality of the concussions or the quantity of them that determines how much damage will occur?
With your support of the Allison Project and the Krembil Neuroscience Centre's Brain Campaign, doctors can begin to tackle some of these questions.
Under the leadership of internationally renowned neuroscientist, Dr. Charles Tator at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre of UHN's Toronto Western Hospital, the Brain Campaign seeks to answer some of the most complex medical questions.
This project is focused on research discovery to translate concussion research into clinical care. It will improve the quality of care and outcomes for patients who have suffered concussions.
The Brain Campaign's Sports Concussion Project has several important initiatives:
• A clinical research study involving former professional football and hockey players who will undergo neurological, neuropsychiatric and neuropsychological assessment as well as brain scans (MRIs) and Magnetoencephalography (MEG) to help doctors better understand changes in the brain that may occur as a result of multiple concussions.
• Improving imaging techniques used to diagnose the full spectrum of concussions – from acute concussion to CTE.
• Develop new treatment methods for post-concussion syndrome such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
• Search for bio-markers which could include blood tests that may be used to diagnose a concussion as well as identifying any susceptibility to concussion within families.
• Encourage professional athletes to donate their brains upon death, especially after participating in the clinical study, so that post-mortem examinations can be completed.
• Translate the findings to sports organizations and medical professionals so the best care can be provided and all sports can be enjoyed safely.
• To aid in understanding, the Canadian Sports Concussion Project has enlisted numerous technologies to help them achieve their goals.
Some of these innovative technologies include:
A $5 million 7-Tesla Whole Body MRI – Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine. This machine will be used to create three-dimensional images of the internal anatomical structures and connections within the body with an unrivaled degree of clarity. The 7-Tesla MRI will be one of 32 internationally and the first one in Canada.
A $600,000 MEG – Magnetoencephalography scanner. This device non-invasively measures magnetic fields generated by intra-cellular electric currents in neurons in the brain. The resulting data provides temporal profiles of brain activity. MEG is highly complementary to MRI as it provides vital information of ‘when’ brain activity occurs, while MRI scans supply information about ‘where’ the activity occurs.
$3.7 million PET CT Scanner Clinical Space. Krembil Neuroscience Centre already operates a PET scanner and wants to move it into a new clinical space to handle an increased volume of patients – from two research patients to up to 30 clinical patients – for clinical procedures.
If you would like to know more about the Canadian Sports Concussion Project, please visit their website: www.solveconcussions.com