Help Our Wounded (HOW) Foundation of South Florida has a new focus, The Concussed Student-Athlete Program.
The program was developed in 2020, and is managed by Healthcare Education Director Hilary Loftus. The HOW Foundation stresses that they have a passion to help student-athletes recover from concussions safely and effectively, early in life. But, how?
The “how” boils down to hyperbaric oxygen chambers — chambers filled with medical-grade oxygen at a higher-than-normal air pressure — that have fueled the healing missions of the Delray Beach-based nonprofit organization.
Maroon — neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 39 years, as well as a board-certified clinical professor of neurological surgery at the Pittsburgh Medical Center — compared the brain’s inflammatory response to a concussion to the body’s response to a splinter.
“It gets red, hot, tender and swollen, right?” Maroon asks.
The brain reacts in much the same way, he says.
So when a person enters HBOT, several things occur.
“First and foremost, it hyper-oxygenates the tissues,” Denham says. “It gives that extra boost of oxygen that brain cells need to get better. The second thing it does is it reduces the swelling, so that blood flow can be restored to normal. And it turns off the inflammatory response.”
Even casual sports fans know that a bad helmet-to-helmet collision can cause a concussion.
But the lacrosse player who bangs his or her head on the field might not just be suffering from whiplash, and the diver who doesn’t complete a rotation and whose head hits the water first might not just be disoriented.
After a HBOT session, many concussed patients often emerge from the “dive” feeling much better and many times even asymptomatic. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is not a medication, it’s a treatment that helps heal and return the injured back to their baseline faster than they ever thought was possible.
Timing is key
Do not wait to seek HBOT treatment for a head injury. Timing is everything.
Just like procrastination with schoolwork or delaying an offseason regimen can affect a student-athlete’s preparation, waiting to seek help for a head injury can drastically alter the recovery timeline.
When student-athletes or others seek HBOT within the first 10 days of their injury, the number of sessions needed often drops dramatically. On average, there are 3 1/2 to 4 treatments.
The treatments are described as very nonintrusive. Oxygen-based therapies are largely very safe, usually with no side effects when administered professionally.
However, for the average person the cost of HBOT off-label, like for concussion recovery, tends to be the roadblock that keeps concussed patients away.
Committing to several sessions is a small investment of time. But the financial toll can be steep; each session typically costs around $250.
However, through funding from organizations such as Palm Health Foundation, HOW and its partners have committed to helping student-athletes by providing treatment without charge.
“Youth mental health and wellness is important to us at Palm Health Foundation, and many of the grant programs we fund have a focus on supporting and uplifting our young people,” President and CEO Patrick McNamara said in a statement to The Palm Beach Post. “HOW helps student-athletes suffering from traumatic brain injuries return to a normal life — a life in which they can continue to thrive and contribute to our wonderful community.”
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