The truth about concussions

20 Sep 2016

An eagle circling in the sky high above him. That one image is all Justin Clarke remembers after being knocked out by a sickening crack of forehead against knee. 

That was January. At what should have been a routine AFL training session, the Brisbane Lions defender and UQ Bachelor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering student suffered a severe concussion. By March, the medical advice was unanimous:  the freak injury was so severe he should give the game away. So, aged just 22, the rising star retired from the game he loved.  

Lesser men might have faltered. But when the Queensland Brain Institute reached out for his help to promote a major new concussion campaign, Justin Clarke took the mark. Five months after lying on the ground, bewildered, Justin was speaking at a press conference on QBI’s rooftop terrace, for the official launch of #nobrainnogame.  

Justin’s concussion was one of an estimated 42 million that occur globally each year. While the short-term symptoms are often reversible, research suggests that even a single knock to the head can have severe consequences later in life, including an increased risk of dementia. QBI had already identified concussion research as a priority and, with almost 500 neuroscientists on staff, had the infrastructure and expertise to tackle the issue.  

The #nobrainnogame campaign aims to raise awareness about the signs of concussion, the importance of rest, and the pressing need for more research. It evolved from face-to-face meetings with the CEOs of 31 sporting codes across the country. QBI has no desire to change the way sports are played, but rather to change the outcomes after head injuries. 

The #nobrainnogame campaign includes a comprehensive 26-page publication distributed through the Australian Financial Review and sporting databases across the country; a new website with facts and ambassador stories; high-profile sporting ambassadors, like Justin, to spread the word; a social media campaign to build a community online; and a grassroots education campaign.  All of this falls within QBI’s broader communications strategy: to promote the value of neuroscience in language accessible to the wider community.  

Ultimately, the campaign is about raising funds, and to provide some definitives around concussion; the big dream is for QBI to eventually house Australia’s first dedicated concussion research centre. In the meantime, QBI’s Dr Fatima Nasrallah is recruiting athletes for a longitudinal study that will take brain scans and saliva samples before and after concussions. Finding a suitable biomarker to test for concussion would enable rapid diagnosis and reduce the risk of repeated head injury. In the short-term, the valuable funds raised by #nobrainnogame mean QBI can begin to tackle some of concussion’s unanswered questions. 

To learn more, or support this important initiative visit:  https://concussion.qbi.uq.edu.au

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