NHLPA Challenge to fuel concussion research

Paul Mayne // Western News

NHL Hall of Famer Eric Lindros signs an autograph for Sheldon Geerts, 11, following the announcement of the completion of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) Challenge fundraising campaign Thursday at Western. After suffering two concussions on the schoolyard when he was 6 years old, Sheldon Geerts, 11, is happy to be back playing hockey, a sport he loves.

Tens of thousands of Canadians, and millions more around the world, will benefit from Western’s groundbreaking work on concussions thanks to the completion of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) Challenge fundraising campaign, university officials announced today.

The Challenge was kicked off by the NHLPA with a $500,000 gift that served as the foundation for a $3.125-million fund to support researchers studying concussions at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

“We are fortunate to have a strong team of collaborative researchers in London researching every aspect of concussion from diagnosis, to treatment and long-term effects,” Schulich Dean Dr. Michael J. Strong said. “We are grateful to the NHLPA and a group of committed donors who saw the value in this important work.”

The funds will support a team of Western researchers at both Schulich and the Robarts Research Institute investigating the symptoms and biomarkers of concussions while working toward strategies to arrest the short- and long-term devastating consequences.

“The NHLPA is very encouraged that our challenge donation has been met and research will begin. We look forward to seeing positive results that the researchers will make,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director. “NHL players support these efforts to further understand the health impacts of concussions, so that better and more effective treatments can be devised.”

Medical experts now agree concussions are serious injuries and may be associated with long-term conditions such as depression, early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s. In Canada, more than 160,000 people experience a concussion every year, half of which are sports-related. There are currently no treatments to ensure recovery from concussion or clinical indices to determine when an injured athlete can safely return to play.

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After suffering two concussions on the schoolyard when he was 6 years old, Sheldon Geerts, 11, is happy to be back playing hockey, a sport he loves. He remembers the struggle he felt while trying to recover – headaches, trouble sleeping and anxiety – and the uncertainty he and his family felt around the appropriate time to return to play.

“It seems everyone knows the first steps to take after a concussion, but after that, the rules may be different, less understood, and misread,” said Geerts as part of today’s announcement.

“I feel it’s hard for kids at my age to understand what is happening when getting a concussion. The hardest though, is having to get the adults to understand as well.”

Geerts and his family hope that research at Western will continue to find better ways to diagnose and treat concussions for kids like Sheldon and athletes in the future.

Visit the Be Extraordinary website to read Sheldon’s story, On Thin Ice.

Today’s announcement was made as part of See the Line, a 10-year initiative that seeks to educate athletes, coaches, parents and the broader community about the serious impact of concussions. It aims to shift the culture around concussion in sport, reduce the incidence of concussion and improve care through research.

Since 2013, thousands of medical and health professionals, athletes, coaches and community members have attended See the Line events, which this year expanded to two days to include a concussion-focused scientific workshop, a continuing medical education seminar, and the Community Symposium.