A Week in My Shoes by Bob Gfeller

I did a lot of traveling this spring and wanted to share one week in the life of the Childress Institute to showcase some fantastic activity around our second goal, which is reducing traumatic injuries in youth recreation and sports. In one particular week, I was able to attend three meetings in three cities with passionate leaders in the concussion/traumatic brain injury space.

City #1: Dallas, TX

I started the week going to the Youth Sports Safety Summit in Dallas, which is held by the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA). The Safety Summit is the NATA’s annual one day conference that’s focused on youth sports safety. They had a number of interesting speakers who attended and there was an audience of about 150 people. Speakers talked about the culture of sport and the psychological change needed by players, parents and coaches to make sports safer.


Erica Konzcal athletic trainer sideline testing concussion recognition youth football TBI traumatic brain injury


Some of the speakers that made the most impact on me were:

  • Yolanda Brooks, a counselor – provided tips on how parents can help their kids play safer: sleep, safety, and sportsmanship
  • James Andrews from Florida, a renowned sports injury orthopedic specialist – spoke about “lifetime athletes,” or children dedicating themselves exclusively to one sport and spending so much time on it that they burn out and get severely injured. It was especially interesting because, as we study the longitudinal impact of injury on kids in sport and in life, he is studying it specifically in baseball and the impact on a child’s mental and physical burnout

City #2: Indianapolis, IN

After the Safety Summit, I traveled to an NCAA meeting in Indianapolis held by their Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brian Hainline, and Col. Dallas Hack, director of the U.S. Army’s Combat Casualty Care Research Program. They convened a group of about 30 experts in traumatic brain injury. The focus was on concussions because they want to create a national surveillance system to record and track concussion in youth sports.


NCAA sports youth concussion


There were several people there from our Four Corners Consortium, Dr. Jerry Gioia from Children’s National, Dr. Joel Stitzel from Wake Forest University, Dr. Dawn Comstock from the University of Colorado, and Dr. Chris Giza from UCLA. Brian asked each person to share their work that could contribute to a national surveillance system. The President has proposed a $5 million allocation in the budget, pending approval, to get this surveillance system established, which they have struggled with for years.

Dr. Matt Breiding from the CDC was the main speaker because he made a proposal for the CDC to do the first survey of U.S. households about youth concussions. Four action items were determined in the meeting, which I think is a positive sign that work is being done and change is happening. Most importantly for us is that our consortium members were important collaborators at the meeting.

City #3: Chapel Hill, NC

We wrapped up the week at the 3rd Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Neurotrauma Symposium at the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, which happens every other year and is organized by the Center’s director, Dr. Jason Mihalik. About 200 people attended and the large majority are athletic trainers.


Bob gfeller lisa gfeller matt gfeller UNC symposium traumatic brain injury TBI concussion


It was a two day symposium where a plethora of experts presented their research with topics ranging from concussion and prevention to neurotrauma and sport-related traumatic injury. The keynote speaker was Dr. Michael McCrea from the University of Michigan renowned in the neurotrauma space. Dr. Stitzel and Dr. Steve Rowson from Virginia Tech had two of the best presentations. Dr. Stitzel covered the iTAKL study and Dr. Rowson covered helmet design and concussion prevention. It was two full days and Lisa and I got to present Matthew’s story and legacy.

It’s always energizing to learn about all the ways we can improve on our second goal of prevention and treatment in youth sports and recreation. There are so many people working to help injured children with traumatic brain injuries. I hope we can find more ways to work faster and better toward our common goal. Here’s to playing it safe!

Stay inspired!!
Bob Gfeller

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