According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 329,290 adolescent athletes visit the emergency department annually with a traumatic brain injury, concussion or other head and neck injury. In 2009, Tommy Mallon was one of those statistics.
Mallon suffered a potentially catastrophic cervical fracture during his final high school lacrosse game. While pursuing a ground ball, Mallon took a seemingly routine hit from an opponent and went down. Tommy’s life was saved because of two things: a teammate encouraged him to stay down and an athletic trainer was available to manage the situation.
Tommy and his mother, Beth Mallon, founded the San Diego-based organization Advocates for Injured Athletes (A4IA) because of this experience. Today, Tommy and other A4IA ambassadors share their experience with others, in the hopes of saving more lives.
A4IA’s mission is twofold: to promote sports safety and to provide essential support, education and resources to help keep athletes safe. One of the ways to do that is by ensuring that there is a qualified athletic trainer at every high school in the U.S. These professionals are on the sidelines of every game, and their ability to recognize the warning signs of serious injury can make the difference between a challenging recovery and a lifetime disability — or even death.
A4IA developed their flagship education program Athletes Saving Athletes™ (ASA) in 2012. The ASA curriculum aims to teach athletes themselves how to recognize the most common catastrophic injuries and to promote the profession of athletic training.
ASA is a unique peer-to-peer program taught exclusively by athletic trainers. Using survival stories like Tommy’s that participants can relate to, the ASA program teaches athletes to recognize the signs and symptoms of head and neck injuries, concussions, sudden cardiac arrest and exertional heat illness — as teammates are often the first on the scene. Students who complete the program are designated ASA Ambassadors who can go back to their teams and teach others to recognize these serious injuries and get help from an athletic trainer, coach or parent.
Dr. Jamie Saben, a sports medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, applauds this approach. “Awareness of common and potentially devastating conditions that affect a student athlete is vital,” he says. “The ASA program is an incredibly valuable resource that has already had an impact.”
Since its inception, more than 8,000 student athletes have completed the ASA program and many have put their training into action. Two San Diego ambassadors used their hands-only CPR training to save lives, and a high school quarterback self-reported his concussion to his coach after hiding his symptoms. A4IA continues to be an advocate for youth sports safety and athletic trainers as part of an overall sports safety plan.
To learn more about Advocates for Injured Athletes, visit injuredathletes.org.
Heather Clemons, MS, MBA, ATC, is a member of the Outreach Advisory Board for Advocates for Injured Athletes, and serves as the lead Continuing Medical Education (CME) associate for Sharp HealthCare. Previously, she spent eight years as the Clinical Coordinator for Hofstra University’s Athletic Training Education Program. Read Clemons’ story recently published in Training and Conditioning, an online publication for athletic trainers.