UW Medicine to Open First-Of-Its-Kind Sports Health and Safety Institute with Major Foundational Gift from National Football League

University of Washiongton (UW) Medicine announced yesterday the launch of the Sports Health and Safety Institute to advance research, education and advocacy for the prevention and treatment of sports-related concussions.  In addition, this Institute will focus on studying the overwhelming health benefits of sports and how to best make these activities safer and thus healthier.  The establishment of the first-of-its-kind institute is made possible by a foundational donation of $2.5 million by the National Football League (NFL).

The conceptualization for the UW Medicine Sports Health and Safety Institute is largely inspired by the personal story of Zackery Lystedt. In 2006, Lystedt, then 13, was returned to play after suffering a head injury in a football game. He was later taken off the field with major head trauma and treated at UW Medicine’s Harborview Medical Center. Advocacy led to the creation of the Zackery Lystedt Law, first passed in Washington and subsequently adopted by all 50 states, which regulates athletes’ return to play after a suspected concussion.

The Institute will be led by Richard G. Ellenbogen, MD, chair of UW Medicine’s Department of Neurological Surgery, and Stanley A. Herring, MD, medical director of Spine, Sports and Orthopedic Health. It will focus first on the issue of concussion by:

  • Advocating for sound policies that advance sports safety;
  • Educating physicians, educators, coaches, parents, athletes and patients about concussion and about the benefits of active youth and how to make sports safer;
  • Researching methods to promote behavioral and cultural change, to assess public health education, and to study the efficacy of sports concussion policies and laws; and
  • Developing strategies to inform and engage the public and the media regarding sports- and recreation-related injuries.

“Though research is underway on the topic across the country, there are many questions that remain unanswered regarding concussions and traumatic brain injury,” Herring said. “The Institute will help tremendously in forging the path and uncovering ways to better engage and educate all interested parties about concussions and discover the best methods to effectively translate learning into behavior change. The NFL’s donation will help make this possible.”

“Our hope is that the research and findings uncovered by the Institute will be used to help shape the rules, regulations and best practices as it relates to safety across all sports,” Ellenbogen said. “It is far too often that athletes have a ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality, so it is our responsibility to ensure the medical staff on the sidelines have the knowledge and resources in place to ensure that no potentially injured athlete returns to the field prematurely.”

Ellenbogen and Herring co-direct the UW Medicine Sports Concussion Program at Harborview Medical Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital, dedicated to the safety of youth athletes. In addition, Ellenbogen co-chairs the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee. Herring, a team physician for the Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Mariners, also is on the committee.

Keeping athletes, especially young ones, healthy and safe is a high priority at UW Medicine — and it is a challenge. Every year, 35 million children in the United States participate in recreational sports. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 3.8 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur every year in the United States, with 173,000 children seen in emergency departments annually for this potentially serious injury.

“Concussion and TBI are complex issues we are deeply concerned about and committed to preventing,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “Providing the foundational donation for the UW Medicine Sports Health and Safety Institute is one step of many that the NFL is taking to address this important topic and is an extension of our work to improve safety for athletes across all age groups. We are confident that UW Medicine will help to make this progress possible.”

Although the UW Medicine Sports Health and Safety Institute will first address concussion, it may come to address other subjects crucial to athletes’ health, such as sudden cardiac arrest. The Institute’s path will depend, in part, on reaching an ambitious $10.5 million fundraising goal.

The Institute will be part of UW Medicine’s pioneering research and patient care. “UW Medicine has already made strides regarding the pathology of concussion and has exceptional strengths in trauma care, orthopedics and rehabilitation — three areas crucial to keeping athletes safe and well,” said Paul G. Ramsey, MD, CEO of UW Medicine. “We’re very pleased to partner with the NFL to make sure we get to the next level in terms of education and advocacy.”

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