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Patrick Neary is connected to a transcranial Doppler machine in his research lab. Neary's research measures changes in blood flow to the concussed brain. Photo by Sarah Ritchie.

by Sarah Ritchie


Hockey fans can breathe again - the sport’s most infamous concussion has healed.


But concussion researchers at the University of Regina aren’t ready to relax.


On Nov. 21, Sidney Crosby made a triumphant return to the ice for the Pittsburgh Penguins, notching two goals and two assists against the New York Islanders. After a ten month recovery, it looked like he hadn’t missed a beat.


But even for experts, concussions are baffling injuries. Only time will tell if Crosby is truly back to his old self, or whether post-concussion syndrome will flare up again.


One thing that is certain is Crosby’s effect on the concussion conversation.


“This has been a good thing for hockey and for sport, in general. Unfortunately, he’s had to go through it. But overall it’s been a very good educational tool. It’s made people sit up and look to see the significance of what happens when you get hit,” said Patrick Neary.


Neary is part of a team at the U of R researching the pathophysiology of concussions – measuring the changes in blood flow to the concussed brain. The researchers look at sports-related concussions.


“Up until now, there hasn’t been a lot of research in this particular area, measuring brain blood flow and how much oxygen the brain is using. We’re finding that initially, there’s a decrease in blood flow in the brain under resting conditions, and then over time it naturally comes back up. So we think that there’s a protective mechanism there to help to protect the brain when it’s very vulnerable,” Neary said.


The research at the U of R is helping to gain new insight into what actually happens in the brain when it has been injured. The hope is to find better ways to treat concussions, and to be better able to determine when an athlete can return to normal activities.


“It certainly is giving us lots of information to say, that’s how delicate and sensitive this situation is. You shouldn’t be going back to play until you can exercise at 100 per cent,” Neary said.


For one U of R Cougars hockey player, waiting to return to play has been a long and frustrating experience.


Second-year student Chantel Hildebrand has suffered four concussions. The most recent happened just over two years ago, during training camp for her Midget AAA team in Swift Current.


“I went to the hospital and they said, ‘You’ve had a minor concussion and should be back within two weeks’. And it’s been two years now and I still can’t exercise,” Hildebrand said.


Eager to get back on the ice, Hildebrand finished the 2009-2010 season and was recruited by the Cougars for the following season. But her post-concussion symptoms returned.


“By December (2010), I noticed I couldn’t follow the puck. By the time I could see what was happening, I couldn’t process what to do. I didn’t tell my coaches because I wanted to play,” Hildebrand said.


“When I was really bad in January, I’d miss classes because I couldn’t remember what time they started, even after I’d been going to them for a month already.


It’s weird it’s almost like, you look back on what you did yesterday and just couldn’t remember what you did. It was a horrible feeling actually, that was probably one of the things that bugged me the most,” Hildebrand said.


Still, she wants to get back onto the ice eventually. But for right now, even minor exercise triggers her symptoms.


“We’ve had some people who have come in here 10 years after, who are still having difficulties relating to an injury that they’ve gotten playing hockey or football, or related to their occupation,” Neary said.


“It’s very perplexing.”

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