An Interview with Unaffiliated Neuro-Trauma Consultant Dr. Javier Cárdenas

Unaffiliated neuro-trauma consultant (UNC) is one of those job title that didn’t really exist a few years ago.

Today’s these professionals are a fixture at every NFL game, where they arte available to assist team medical staffs in the diagnosis and management of suspected concussions or spine injuries.

The following interview provides a glimpse into what they do.

Describe your role as a UNC:

I focus on player protection.  I serve as a sideline consultant and assist in identifying collisions that may result in concussion or other neurological injury, such as head to head, head to ground, knee to head, etc. Whether on the home or away sideline, the team’s medical staff makes us of my unbiased opinion in the event of a suspected concussion.

What are you looking for as a UNC on the sideline?

In addition to watching for suspicious collisions, I look to see how the athletes are behaving on the field. Do they look disoriented, sluggish, of just ‘off’? During sideline assessment, I am looking for abnormal eye movements, imbalance, trouble with memory, concentration, and processing speed. Fortunately, we have an entire team working on this process, including an athletic trainer in the video booth, support on the ground, and access to video “under the hood” like the officials have. We work collaboratively to maintain player safety.

As a pediatric neurology expert, what concerns do you hear from players and/or parents about head injuries?

As a child neurologist, I am repeatedly approached by parents who want to do what is best for their child. Concussion education, prevention, and management are key to avoiding and minimizing injury. Unfortunately, I have treated patients who have suffered a second concussion before recovering from their first and have paid the price with their health. Parents and athletes are concerned about the short-and long-term consequences of head injury. I reiterate the importance of properly fitted equipment, safe and smart play, identification of concussion, and preventing athletes from returning too early.

What sort of culture changes have you seen regarding head injuries across all sports?

In Arizona and across the nation, I have seen a huge shift in culture regarding concussions. There is a greater awareness on the part of coaches, parents, and now athletes. I see more kids taking charge, removing themselves from play and waiting until they have completely healed before returning. More young athletes are advocating for their health and that of their teammates, ensuring they can compete for years to come and do well in school.

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