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Student athlete launches campaign to ‘Sideline Concussion’

February 17th, 2014

With the popularity of contact sport higher than ever among young people in Northern Ireland and as a number of youth sporting competitions get under way, William Hayhurst, a 22 year old medical student from Belfast is urging young athletes to be aware of the signs of concussion and the importance of recognising concussion on and off the playing field, with his ‘Sideline Concussion’ campaign.

The awareness campaign, was devised by William as part of his elective (student selective component) back in early 2013 whilst in his 3rd year studying medicine at the University of Manchester, and has already received backing and support from leading Belfast based Paediatric Neurologist, Dr Deirdre Peake, former Ireland and British Lion rugby star Dr David Irwin, brain injury charity Headway, Paradox Omega Sport.

William Hayhurst with Belfast Giants hockey players Chris Higgins and Adam Keefe

An avid hockey player, Hayhurst a former pupil of RBAI chose the topic of concussion for his ssc based on his own experiences whilst playing sport at school and at university. He had witnessed young players experiencing head injuries and recognised that there was not only a lack of awareness about the seriousness of concussion, but also a lack of information available to help educate young people like himself and his team mates.

“In my experience young athletes often want to remain in play after a hard tackle or collision to avoid causing disruption to the game, sometimes out of fear of appearing weak or missing future games. They are also not always forced to leave the pitch and certainly aren’t aware of what to look for as a sign of concussion following impact. My review of the current research literature on concussion also showed young athletes take longer to recover from minor head injuries and concussions than mature athletes” said Hayhurst.

Hayhurst was inspired to bring his campaign to life recently after listening to the significant amount of discussion and interest in the topic of concussion following recent high profile sporting incidents including the tragic cases of Benjamin Robinson and Michael Schumacher, along with the concussion incidents featuring Spurs’ goalkeeper Hugo Lloris  and now Jenny Jones’s  the winner of Britain’s historic first on snow medal in The Winter Olympics who feared her Olympic dream was over when she suffered a concussion in a serious training accident in Austria in December .

“At the time of doing my elective I was unaware of what had happened to Benjamin’, said Hayhurst. ‘But taking this on-board and the huge amout of discussion about concussion towards the end of last year, as well as my own experiences whilst playing sport, I wanted to do something further with the ‘Sideline Concussion’ project.”

He continues, “As medical students we are now encouraged to listen, observe, problem solve and provide information to patients in easily understood informational forms such as posters and leaflets. In this respect I hope the Sideline campaign will help raise awareness of the important subject of concussion in young people and encourage young athletes to be vigilant when it comes to concussion, and to take more ownership and responsibility of their or their teammates ‘injury’ i.e. get off the pitch and make their coaches and team mates immediately aware if they are experiencing, or indeed see a team mate displaying any signs of concussion.”

Dr Deirdre Peake, Consultant Paediatric Neurologist comments, “William’s campaign is a great idea and something which I as a doctor feel is of paramount importance in educating our young athlete’s to recognise the warning signs of concussion and to have the confidence and ability to articulate the symptoms to those in charge.”

Dr David Irwin former British Lion, Ulster rugby doctor and sports medicine specialist has also backed Sideline, “The welfare of any young athlete is paramount if parents are to be confident about their children participating in contact sports and Sideline’s clear messages making young people aware of the signs and symptoms of concussion and encouraging such as good technique to avoid injury is to be commended”

Johnny Turnbull, Headway Northern Ireland – the brain injury association, said: “We fully support William’s campaign. It is vital that sportspeople recognise that even a minor head injury can have major implications.

“When someone suffers a minor head injury, it can be difficult to assess the level of damage done. The symptoms may take some time to present themselves, which can lead to delays in receiving treatment. While the majority of minor head injuries will result in no lasting problems, when there are complications delays in receiving treatment can be fatal.

“It is vital we continue to raise awareness of concussion in sport by providing players, officials, coaches and parents with information on how to identify it and the appropriate actions to take. William’s campaign will only help us achieve this aim.”

Miss Janet Williamson, principal of The Royal Belfast Academical School also commended William Hayhurst, a former pupil, on the contribution he is making to pupil safety through the Sideline initiative.  “The poster campaign will raise awareness amongst the boys, in a language they can relate to. This is vitally important, to develop an understanding of the signs to look out for to protect themselves, and their team mates. The safety of the players is paramount. William combines his sporting experience and knowledge, with his medical training to address a gap in schools and at RBAI we will be supporting this innovative approach to understanding what to look for with concussion.”

With many young athletes in Northern Ireland suffering concussion each year, William hopes his Sideline Concussion campaign will be embraced by schools, clubs and sporting organisations right across Northern Ireland, “Concussion is a common injury in many sports including Rugby, Gaelic games, Soccer, Boxing, Hockey and even Cycling,” he added. “The Sideline campaign aims to target schools, sporting clubs and associations in Northern Ireland with informational flyers urging participants to become advocates for themselves and their teammates.  We want young people, their coaches and parents alike to realise the importance of treating head injury with care and caution and acting proactively to protect athletes.”

To download the Sideline Concussion poster and flyer to share with your school or sporting club visit www.sidelineconcussion.com. You can also follow the campaign @SideLineConcuss.