On Friday, I wrote about the big business of soccer and how business interests don’t want to rock the boat by taking concussions seriously. Today I read an article in the business section of the New York Times about the big business of concussions. Well, yeah. It is a big business too.
The article states, “A growing industry has developed around concussions, with entrepreneurs, academic institutions and doctors scrambling to find ways to detect, prevent and treat head injuries. An estimated 1.7 million Americans are treated every year after suffering concussions from falls, car accidents, sports injuries and other causes.”
In particular, the writers talk about the hyperbaric oxygen therapy trade. It’s not an inexpensive therapy to deliver and people, especially military guys, are big believers in the treatment. I have a friend who is a speech-language pathologist in Norfolk, Virginia, a major military area. She says that soldiers and sailors totally believe in hyperbaric oxygen. They hate taking pills and are certain the oxygen is helping them. Yet studies have shown that hyperbaric oxygen treatments are no better than a placebo. Three studies that cost taxpayers $70 million have all poo-poo hyperbaric oxygen treatments. Never mind. The military guys want them, so a study of the studies is underway and business is still good.
A few paragraphs into the article, I remembered a talk I attended in 2013 at the VA Polytrauma Center at McGuire Hospital in Richmond, where I was a clinical extern. The doctor mentioned that a boat-load of money has been made available by the federal government to come up with better ways to care for our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Nothing much has come of all this money, time, and energy however. We don’t know a lot more than we knew ten years ago.
Low and behold, I ran into a quote from that very doctor expressing the same series of unfortunate events. “Dr. David X. Cifu, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond who also works for the Veterans Affairs Department, said that the hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds spawned a research feeding frenzy that led to dubious claims.”
“It was a small field that got amazingly large because a lot of people were making stuff up and claiming things,” Dr. Cifu said.
New technology to treat and prevent concussion also abounds. Concussion has spawned a no-hold-barred search for screening tools, helmet sensors, electronic mouthpieces, diagnostic blood tests and brain imaging devices. “Start-ups are marketing their products to the military, schools, hospitals, sports teams and parents . . .” One produce manufacturing CEO is quoted as saying that “It is a Wild West out there.”
Maybe so, but that is so much better, I think, than the dearth of information and treatment when I had my TBI in a 1977 car crash. I wandered around thinking I was crazy for years. Even when I was diagnosed with brain injury in 2004, there still wasn’t much available for the person with brain injury. I remember being so excited to find Claudia Osborne’s book, Over My Head, one of the few survivor stories available then. Now, hundreds of survivors are published (which also has to do with the rise of self-publishing).
All of this activity over the last 10 years gives me hope that things are getting better for persons with brain injury. After the Brian-Popp collision, I said to my athletic trainer son that this would change things. As a fan who pays more attention to the details of the game and industry than I do, he’s not so optimistic. He’s worked in situations where the healthcare staff and the coaches saw things differently. And the coaches and owners win.
But I have a longer view. We’ve come a long, long way since 1977 and the last ten years have seen huge leaps in awareness about the short and long-term consequences of a bump on the head. Soccer and all sports will take a different approach to brain injury next year, or the next. After all, it will be good business.