The Puck Stops Here



Colten St. Clair knew he took a hard hit. At hockey practice last January, the Fargo Force player collided with a teammate at full speed. Colten crashed headfirst into the boards.

“I was down on the ice and the next thing I knew Phil was calling my name,” says the 18-year-old. “I sat up with my head ringing.”

Immediately Phil Faught, Sanford athletic trainer for the Fargo Force, initiated a process to evaluate a possible concussion. A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that alters normal brain function.

“Colten did fairly well on the first test, but the length of time it took for him to reply and his mannerisms told me things weren’t quite right,” says Phil. “When it comes to concussions, there’s no room for guesswork. You have to make sure the athlete is 100 percent recovered before returning to the game.”

Defeating concussions

Phil and the entire team at Sanford Orthopedics & Sports Medicine know the score when it comes to concussion management.

“Today we have so much more knowledge than we did years ago,” says Phil. “We know healing takes time -- days, weeks, even months. And we know the great danger in returning an athlete to the rink too soon is the risk of a repeat concussion and consequent long-term problems or even catastrophic results.”

Evidence shows that repeated concussions can result in lasting brain damage, even when they occur months or years apart.

Colten, who’s been playing hockey since age 8, is no stranger to injuries, but he puts concussions in a different league. “You don’t mess around with a head injury,” he says.

Safety zone

How did Phil know when it was safe for Colten to return? All Sanford athletic trainers follow a similar step-by-step approach. For Colten, the steps included:

  • The “Sports Assessment for Concussion” administered immediately after the hit.
  • Colten’s replies prompted Phil to keep him out of practice the rest of the day.
  • Strict instructions to Colten and his Fargo Force host family-- no play, practice or other strenuous physical activity, no driving or other mental stimulation such as playing video games, reading, texting, etc. for Colten, plenty of rest, good nutrition and close observation.
  • When symptoms cleared, evaluation with ImPACT™ -- a specialized computer program to help assess concussion recovery status.
  • Following the ImPACT test and other clinical evaluations to determine readiness to return to physical activity, easy cycling on a stationary bike to see if symptoms returned.
  • If no symptoms, more vigorous exercise on the treadmill and bike and weight training.
  • If no symptoms, return to the lineup for practice without contact.
  • If no symptoms, return to the game.

The entire process took three weeks. “No matter how much the athlete might want to get back in, it can’t happen until every step is successfully completed;” says Phil. “Clouded judgment can never enter this picture.”

Colten didn’t like being sidelined, but knew it was necessary. “It’s hard to sit on the bench and not be able to help your team, but you only have one brain and you better take care of it,” he says. “Someday I’d like to be a healthy 50-year-old playing men’s league.”

Game on!

Completing his third year with the Fargo Force, Colten looks forward to college hockey next season. The Arizona native has committed to the University of North Dakota.

But first, something bigger. “This summer I have a chance to get drafted,” he says, grinning. “My lifelong goal is to play in the NHL.”

Your call

What are your athletic goals? And what if an injury gets in your way? You owe it to yourself to get expert help, ensuring a safe return to the sport you love. Count on Sanford Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.

For more information contact Sanford Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Fargo, ND at (701) 237-9712 or in Sioux Falls, SD at (605) 328-2663 or visit orthosports.sanfordhealth.org.

Posted Date: May 2011

The Puck Stops Here

Fargo Force hockey player Colten St. Clair wears more than 20 pounds of protective gear, but even that can’t stop a concussion. Learn how Sanford helps to save the brains of athletes.