2013 AANS Annual Report - page 29

Advancing and Accelerating Head-injury Safety
H. Hunt Batjer, MD, FAANS, Tackles Head-injury Prevention for the National Football League
hen the National Football League (NFL)
revamped what would become its Head, Neck
and Spine Committee in 2010, it summoned
H. Hunt Batjer, MD, FAANS, to tackle the widespread
issue of concussion and other sports-related injuries
among its players. Along with Co-chairman Richard
Ellenbogen, MD, FAANS, Dr. Batjer is spearheading the
league’s efforts to streamline sports safety and make
a positive impact in head-injury prevention. “We are
working on many fronts to try and make collision sports,
like football, as safe as possible, and to equip our players
with the best safety equipment possible while preserving
the integrity of the sport,” he said.
The committee is a medical, athletic and scientific
think-tank of sorts, having at its disposal an array of
insights from engineers and researchers in addition
to involvement from the National Institutes of Health
(NIH) and the United States Department of Defense.
Included on the committee’s agenda is the study of
how a football career might affect the brain and spine
health of a player later in life. AANS Immediate Past
President Mitchel S. Berger, MD, FAANS, oversees a
subcommittee pertaining to the issue. By way of a $30
million research investment, the NFL has partnered with
the NIH to assess what Dr. Batjer, chair of neurological
surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical
Center, called “a very focused problem.” Additional
subcommittees address topics such as safety equipment
and playing rules, advocacy and education, brain and
spine injury research, and return-to-play protocols.
The findings of Dr. Batjer and his colleagues have
implications that go beyond professional play and
into the realm of youth athletics. “This is of high
importance to kids and parents,” he says, speaking
about the devastating effect second-impact syndrome
— a potentially catastrophic condition that occurs
when the brain suffers a second concussion while
it is still recovering from a previous one — can have
on a developing brain. “Second-impact syndrome is
unique to youth athletes because a brain that is not fully
myelinated does not recover quickly from concussion
injury,” he says. “[Reinjury of the brain] before it’s fully
healed can result in subdurals, massive brain swelling
and death.”
While he observes that head-injury awareness has
increased among players of all stripes, Dr. Batjer
believes that all neurosurgeons have a responsibility
in continuing the conversation in their communities,
particularly with young athletes and their parents. “We
have the ability to educate them, make themmore
knowledgeable and more observant,” Dr. Batjer says
of neurosurgeons who clear student athletes in yearly
physicals and during return-to-play assessments on
the sidelines. “AANS members are community leaders
[who are] asked by organizations in their cities to
speak on head injury and concussion safety, topics that
are important in the public domain right now. [This
is] a great opportunity for the community awareness
While informed coaches and athletic trainers are
integral to ensuring a player’s safety, Dr. Batjer asserts
that neurosurgeons are on the starting lineup when
imparting knowledge about protecting the head, neck
and spine during athletic play. “Neurosurgeons have a
unique perspective in taking care of devastating brain
injuries; this makes us so aware of the disastrous
outcomes that can happen with repetitive head injuries.
No one can communicate it better than we can.”
Dr. H. Hunt Batjer holds the Lois C.A. and Darwin E.
Smith Distinguished Chair in Neurological Surgery at
the University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW), where he
completed both his medical degree and his residency.
Prior to holding his current position, he served as
Chairman of Neurological Surgery for the Feinberg
School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago
for 17 years. In addition to his service in a number of
professional societies, Dr. Batjer chairs the Accreditation
Council for Graduate Medical Education’s Residency
Review Committee for Neurological Surgery.
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