An Interview with Dr. Kelly

Summertime means that kids can spend long days outdoors playing their favourite sports. It also means an increase in emergency department admittance at the Children’s Hospital for sport injuries – especially concussions. Seeing this and with her love of sports, Dr. Kelly Russell decided to focus on pediatric concussion research.

“Concussion is sometimes called the invisible injury, and it’s hard for kids who may not understand why they can’t concentrate, feel dizzy or have a headache, or lights or sounds are bothering them, when they look just fine,” states Dr. Russell. “We want to draw attention to this injury that isn’t so obvious.”

Through your donation to the Children’s Hospital Foundation Dr. Russell’s research at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba is giving a better understanding of pediatric concussions and is resulting in better outcomes for kids.

“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that we’re getting the right kids to the right treatment option in a timely manner and our research is helping to better understand this,” says Dr. Russell. “It used to be that you just waited in a dark room until you felt better, but that’s changing. We want to get kids back into regular life as efficiently as possible.”

One of Dr. Russell’s studies will follow hockey players of both genders, aged 13 – 16, to determine the impact of the sport on young brains. They will be followed for 2 years.

“We’ll get their pre-season baseline measurements, which is how the body and systems function and how the brain and behaviour are affected,” says Dr. Russell. “We’ll take pictures of their brains (neuroimaging), and then they’ll go play hockey. Those players who get a concussion will be treated at the Pan Am Concussion Program. At the end of each season we’ll re-do the tests.  For players who did not get a concussion, we are hoping to find no changes in the brain as a result of the sport.”

Although research is providing more objective measures to determine a concussion and when they have recovered, it is still largely reliant on subjective reporting of signs and symptoms. There are several things parents can watch for, and one major myth to dispel.

“You do not need to lose consciousness to have a concussion,” says Dr. Russell. “That’s more of an old wives’ tale than anything. If kids complain about getting a headache, or nausea, or if they vomit that could be a sign. If they stumble and seem dizzy, that could also indicate a concussion.”

What do parents need to know if they suspect their child has a concussion?

“One of the biggest things to recognize is that the injury is fairly individualized, and if you get a second concussion it may be quite different from the first one,” says Dr. Russell. “So, particularly if it’s in a sports setting, you need to follow the guidelines of ‘when in doubt, sit them out’, which means that you get pulled from whatever game or practice you are involved in and then go seek medical advice. At that point a physician could refer you to the Pan Am Concussion Program.”

The Pan Am Concussion Program, located at the MTS Iceplex, is the first multi-disciplinary, provincially funded, concussion program that is pediatric specific in all of Canada. It’s just another way your donations are developing leaders in the field.

“The donors play a critical role in allowing us to do our research and focus our time on how to improve the health of Manitoba’s children,” says Dr. Russell. “Through the Pan Am Concussion Program we are leading the way in Canada in improving concussion outcomes in kids and getting them the help and the treatment options that they need.”

Born and raised in Edmonton, the unique environment at CHRIM enticed Dr. Russell to make Winnipeg home.

“This is an amazing place to do my research,” says Dr. Russell. “This supportive environment is what made me decide to come here. I am very grateful to all of the donors for supporting my research.”

Your donation to the Children’s Hospital Foundation supports research like Dr. Russell’s that is unravelling the mystery surrounding concussion, and allowing kids to safely reap the benefit of sports.