Mohammed Ali is an icon bigger than his sport, easily in the late 1960’s becoming the worlds most recognizable man. This week he turned 70 years old. Mohammed Ali suffers from Parkinson’s disease, admitting with his training plus his fights according to Mr Ali himself he’s sustained over 29,000 hits to the head. It is a miracle that he is still alive. One of those collective cultural memory images etched in people’s minds is a Mohammed Ali standing, stooped and shaking beside the Olympic flame taking forever to light the flame at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. This image is the most famous post-concussion moment of all times.
You have to be very patient to talk with MrAli, he gets tired easily, and he speaks eloquently with his hands. Ironically brain scans of people using hand language triggers the same communication zones within our brains, so whether it’s the hands or the voice, the brain messages originate from the same brain zones.There is no such thing as an English brain nor a French brain or a hand signal brain, French or English, there is a single communication brain zone, especially here in Montreal fighting this crass linguistic battle at each other, my language is better than yours.
We don’t really know how many hits to the head, Mr Crosby took on his way to becoming a Pittsburgh Penguin NHL caliber player. No one really keeps track of these things. If each concussion was a swatch of curving ice cuts, like the blade markings on the ice, the lines would be everywhere. So where do we go from here?
In today’s January 19, 2012 Montreal Gazette Debbie Friedman in her capacity as the Pediatric Trauma Director at the Montreal Children’s Hospital sees over 1000 children suffering from concussions per year. That’s a lot of small Sidney Crosbys with the huge exception, they are not being followed the way Mr Crosby is being followed medically by some of the finest experts available. After two years Montreal’s Emergency Room children in their total head hits match Mohammed Ali career number of head hits. Think of 1000 Mohammed Ali children look-a -likes, that’s the real big picture in one city. Whether it’s 1000 Mohammed Ali children or 1000 Sidney Crosby children, here’s my point: they all have the potential for not necessarily becoming a Sidney Crosby or a Mohammed Ali, but the potential to become great adults. When does a child return to play? Only when entirely symptom free for one week is the current ground rule.Yet how many kids don’t really share their true symptoms following a concussion? It looks like a lot do and the adults go along with this charade which is horrific. Concussions are brain injuries, you don’t work your way through them. We don’t have a return to school policy either, none. Yet there are all these learning issues- like post concussion memory acquisition deterioration effects. Nothing in place for the affected children, nothing.
The real dilemma for Debbie Friedman is she doesn’t have a gold standard diagnostic test for concussion. None.
That’s where hopefully we come in. We started two days ago with our pilot study on mice tracking metabolic effects after concussion. We should have enough results by the start of the Stanley Cup finals, to see if we’re starting to hit our stride in terms of understanding which brain systems to look at that we can measure real brain change after a concussion.
I see all those 1000 children waiting in line looking at us I really do. We can’t disappoint them. We have to find in our science the beginning of hope. Hope for the likes of Mohammed Ali and Sidney Crosby. They belong to the group too, we all belong, we are all children with hope at our essence. Hope for the chance at making a better world for all of us.