A group of area doctors recently held the first of what they hope will be a series of symposiums designed to help high school coaches recognize athletic injuries and administer proper emergency treatment.
The symposium, held at Fairfax High School, was highlighted by a demonstration of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), a method of attemping to revive an individual suffering cardiac arrest - a heart which has stopped beating.
CPR is considered so important that Dr. Robert Ryan, who conducted the demonstration, says, "Schools should make it mandatory that someone trained in CPR be in attendance at all athletic events."
Noting that only four of Northern Virginia's 26 public high schools have certified trainers on the staffs, Dr. Robert Nirschl, chairman of the Virginia Medical Society's committee on sports medicine, says, "The idea of having the symposium is to fill the gap until certified trainers become a reality in every school."
In order to employ a certified trainer, a school must have a teaching position available for that person.
"When the high schools go to hire someone, they hire him or her to teach a subject first," Nirschl explains. "The fact that the person is a trainer is secondary. Since many certified trainers coming out of college are physical education majors, they're competing for what few openings there may be in their field, making it difficult for them to find jobs."
The symposium, which featured workshops in taping, injury recognition and CPR in the afternoon, was attended by "about 25 people," according to Rick Isaac, trainer for Lake Braddock High School.
"It wasn't attended as well as it should have been when you consider that each school was invited to send two people," Isaac said. "For the workshops in the afternoon session, there were less than 25 people. I think the lectures in the morning might have been a little too sophisticated for some people and scared them off. But the county should have made people go to the worshops somehow."
Isaac was especially impressed with Ryan's demonstration of CPR, which involves, in part, pumping blood for the heart through external heart massage.
"It would have made the day if everyone there had tried it." Isaac says. "It's absolutely something people who are involved in athletics should know how to do."
Ryan, of course, agrees.
Though most people don't view sudden cardiac arrest as a problem common to youths. Ryan says "We are seeing more and more young people with artery problems."
Ryan also notes that teen-agers are prone to viruses and flu, which "make them prime candidates for heart problems." The added strain athletic competition put on the heart increases the possibility of cardiac arrest when coupled with such ailments.
Even a completely healthy athlete faces the possibility of cardiac arrest from accidents that may occur during competition.
"Injuries, even ones that aren't too bad, may cause shock which, in turn, may cause cardiac arrest," Ryan explains." A broken ankle could bring on shock and cardiac arrest. A direct blow to the chest can cause it by sending the heart's rhythm off."
Administering CPR is "not at all difficult; a person can become pretty darn expert by taking an eight-hour course the Heart Association offers," according to Ryan.
The problem is finding people in the schools who are willing and able to take the course in CPR or any other area of athletic training. Nirschl feels "people in the schools are interested" in learning training techniques, but "they need extra motivation" to attend courses or future symposiums.
"I'd like to see each school designate some interested teacher as a trainer," Nirschl suggests. "This way we coudl get the same person back to our symposiums each time they're held. Of course, financial recognition or certification of some sort would help keep motivation up."
The area's four certified high school trainers receive approximately $1,300 each a year as supplements to their standard teaching salaries.
Nirschl indicates that "the organization of future programs will be changed somewhat" to include more workshops.
"We want to set up programs where teachers active in the workshops will go back and show the coaches the value of what they've learned," Nirschl says.
Nirschl feels schools should improve their means of caring for athletes because "the seriousness of injuries is greater today since participants have more size and momentum than in the past.
"A lot of athletic injuries went totally unrecognized in the past," Nirschl says. "There's no need for that to happen today."