Melanie Tuck, Collegiate Sports Medicine president and athletic therapist, does concussion testing at the office Thursday. Tuck founded the concussion program at Collegiate Sports Medicine 10 years ago. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)

Many Central Alberta athletes suffering concussions

Four concussions before she turned 16 forced an up-and-coming wakeboarder to step away from the sport she loved.

Nakita Schaab, 18, a two-time national junior gold-medalist wakeboarder recently retired from the sport after doctors said she had neurological problems stemming from her concussions.

“The (concussions) have all been pretty minor, but (it got) kind of to the point where they were getting easier and easier to get,” said Schaab, who grew up in Lacombe.

She suffered her first concussion at 13 when her wakeboard came up and hit the back of her head during a big wave. She needed stitches and took a short break from the sport.

Schaab said she was told suffering another concussion could potentially impact her ability to study at university.

There were other instances where she may have been concussed, but it’s sometimes difficult to diagnose, she said.

In 2015, Schaab competed in her first international wakeboarding competition in Florida. Just before the competition, she suffered a minor concussion but decided to compete anyway.

“I don’t know if it was the smartest thing, but it made me think, ‘What should I do in this type of situation?’

“As a competitive athlete, I didn’t want to stop my training. Sometimes when I did think I had a concussion I probably could’ve taken it more seriously,” said Schaab, who now coaches wakeboarding and studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

“I’m very fortunate I got to achieve what I did and I’m very blessed I get to stay within the sport as a coach,” she said, adding it was very tough to leave the sport.

Meagyn Green, kinesiologist and manager of the concussion program at Collegiate Sports Medicine in Red Deer, said concussions are a growing problem for Central Alberta athletes. The Collegiate Sports Medicine concussion program was formed about 10 years ago.

Six to eight people were being treated for a concussion in followup appointments on Thursday alone, and four to five people call the clinic’s concussion hotline every day.

“We’ve had young athletes – and when I say young I mean anywhere between 14 and 18 – coming in that have their careers ended because of multiple concussions,” said Green.

While concussions are more common in contact sports like football or hockey, any athlete can get hurt, said Green. For example, the clinic has helped volleyball players after the ball hit them in the face.

Green said it is crucial people come in and get tested if they show concussion-related symptoms; headaches, dizziness, ringing in ears, temporary loss of consciousness, etc.

Green said concussions don’t show up on MRI images, so the clinic will do cognitive assessments – visual tracking, balance testing, a physical assessment and more – before diagnosing a concussion.

“That’s really the only way to truly diagnose a concussion. You have to go through and do the cognitive evaluation and see how the brain is functioning.

“We need to know the true evaluation of who they are as an individual before they have a concussion so we can get them back to their normal,” said Green.

Alison Skoblenick, athletic therapist and member of concussion program, said the shortest concussion treatment process can take seven days, while others will need months of treatment.

The sooner treatment begins, the quicker a brain can heal, she added.

“Early management is so huge,” said Skoblenick. “But people are doing the right thing and getting in touch with us early. They are realizing early intervention into concussions is such a big deal.”

Getting into a clinic 48 to 72 hours after showing symptoms is ideal, she added.

“Concussions are so overwhelming and there’s so much information to it so we just want to be the ones to assist in the process and teach them how to do it themselves,” said Skoblenick.

Green said they want to get rid of the “old school ‘shake it off’ mentality.”

“Concussions can really change a person’s life,” said Green. “We want to avoid all that. Whether it’s a young athlete or an adult who sustained a concussion in a motor vehicle accident, we want to make sure they’re treated correctly.”

Multiple concussions can cause changes in a person’s brain. This can result in an individual having anger problems, an inability to focus and constantly being sympotomatic, making it difficult to interact with others.

“Just like a physical injury you need rest to start with and then have gradual integration of something,” said Green.

Anyone with questions regarding concussion treatment can contact Collegiate Sports Medicine’s concussion line at 403-314-4458​.

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Lacombe’s Nakita Schaab suffered at least four concussions while wakeboarding between the ages of 13 and 16. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)

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