By Tina Comeau
The Yarmouth Junior A Mariners team has seen itself in first place in the division standings for much of this 2012-13 hockey season.
Now the team is part of another first that could have a significant impact on their sport.
The Mariners were chosen by Dr. Ivar Mendez, a renowned neurosurgeon, to be the first hockey team to test out a hand-held device able to detect the presence of bleeding on the brain, or a hematoma, after a player suffers a concussion or a big hit on the ice.
Dr. Mendez, head of neurosurgery at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax and chair and a founding member of the Brain Repair Centre, is known around the world for advances he has been involved with in medical science, including pioneering remote robotic health delivery, meaning he can be sitting in his office in Halifax but overseeing a surgery taking place on the other side of the country, or the other side of the world.
Or from a laptop inside his hotel room in Yarmouth, he can be doing his rounds with his patients in Halifax, which he did while he was here last week.
He’s also a humanitarian who, through his foundation, the Ivar Mendez International Foundation, has helped to improve the lives of children in his native Bolivia through breakfast, dental, arts and computer programs. (Oh, and he’s also a photographer, artist and musician on the side.)
And now he is also turning his attention to contact sports.
Dr. Mendez has been selected to carry out testing of a device called an Infrascanner. It is a hand-held device developed by an American firm that within 10 seconds can detect the presence of a hematoma, or the collection of blood or a clot. He would eventually like to see this technology available to all teams involved in contact sports, such as hockey and football teams.
On Friday, Jan. 11, the Mariners became the first hockey team he has ever introduced this technology to. In fact, he said he knew of no other hockey team it has been tested on.
So how did this come about? What drew Dr. Mendez to the Fish Tank, a.k.a. the Mariners Centre?
It can be traced back to a friendship, and contacts, that he and Keith Condon, the CEO and president of Tri-Star Industries, have had over the years. Condon and Mitch Bonnar, Tri-Star’s vice-president of operations, also happen to be the owners of the junior A hockey team. Both men are thrilled to have the team involved with this technology.
“We want to be a leader in bringing this to the game for the MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League),” said Condon. “And who knows where it goes from there. It’s very exciting.”
And so Dr. Mendez came to Yarmouth on Jan. 11 and gave a presentation to the team on the day they were set to host the Miramichi Timberwolves for their first home game of 2013. Before conducting brain scans of the players, he talked to them about concussions. He likened the brain to a football inside a wooden box.
“As soon as you are hit what happens is the brain . . . it vibrates, it turns around and the brain hits the walls of skull,” he explained to the players. When that happens, if there is enough severity, it disrupts the signal to the brain and you lose consciousness, sometimes for just a few seconds.
“This is what a concussion is,” he said. “It’s a momentary lapse of consciousness and then you gain consciousness afterwards.”
But after this occurs you cannot tell, just by looking at someone, what is going on inside their head. And sometimes people are left with questions they don’t know the answer to, Dr. Mendez said. Do you take the person to a hospital? Do they need a scan of their brain? Do they need to be looked at by a surgeon?
Because something that can happen when you’ve been hit with the type of force that causes the brain to swirl inside your head is small blood vessels can break and cause a clot. This can be dangerous because the blood accumulating in the skull can compress the brain. Therefore, with an injury of this sort, time is of the essence when it comes to receiving medical treatment.
The only way you can diagnosis this, Dr. Mendez said, is with a CT scan.
This is where the hand-held Infrascanner comes in. The infrared light it sends out can detect stationary red blood cells that have formed a clot.
“It is very sensitive,” he said. “It can detect with 99.9 per cent accuracy.”
In fact during testing on one of the Mariners players it detected that the player had experienced a nose blood earlier in the day. This even amazed Dr. Mendez himself.
For the past three to six months he has been testing the device in trauma situations.
“We had a patient who came in from a car accident. We scanned the patient and in 10 seconds found that he had a hematoma. Then we took him to a CT scanner and the hematoma was right where we predicted,” he told the players. He also said that in cases where the scanner indicated there was no bleeding or clot the CT scan confirmed this.
As for what the units would cost, that is still unknown.
After explaining the technology to the team Dr, Mendez was looking for a half-dozen volunteers to try it out. Instead, he got the entire Mariners team. Everyone was eager to go through the scanning even though some, admittedly, were a little nervous because of what it could detect. Everyone, however, received the all clear.
Dr. Mendez then re-scanned the players after their game that night. Again, all was good.
“It's pretty impressive. I don’t even know what to say about it, it was that amazing,” said player Colin Campbell.
His teammate Matt Tomah said to have this type of technology available on a hockey bench would go a long way towards easing a player’s mind if they have suffered a hit or concussion. Derek Larade, who in the past has been diagnosed with a concussion, agreed. He was glad the team was participating in this testing.
“I thought it was pretty neat that he came down and showed us this and that we could be the first team to be introduced to this and see how beneficial it is,” Larade said.
His teammate Braden Mercier said he could definitely see technology like this being in demand in the coming years.
And that’s what Dr. Mendez is counting on.
Just as defibrillators have spread in arenas, he wants to see this become widespread too.
“My hope is that every ambulance in the world, and every team that could have a potential concussion, has one of these,” he said, adding it would be especially important to teams that travel because a player could continue to be monitored on the ride home.