Canadians are becoming more aware of the long and short term consequences of head trauma. Conversations around the prioritization of brain health are becoming increasingly common, especially in the world of sports.
Rowan Stringer was a high-school athlete who died as a result of multiple head injuries. Rowan’s Law has led to recommendations to improve safety in amateur competitive sport. As a result, many sports leagues are becoming more informed about the consequences of head injuries and are taking precautions to prevent them.
Sport is considered high risk for head injuries, specifically ice hockey, rugby and ringette. These sports have the highest proportion of brain injuries among children and youth five to 19 years of age, ranging from 27 to 44% of all injuries that occur while playing these sports.i
Canadians appear to lack an understanding of concussions, as many as 1 in 2 (50 per cent) have little or no knowledge of concussions. When a concussion does occur, only 15 per cent of Canadians can correctly identify the best ways to treat a concussion.ii Rowan’s Law Day aims to educate, so every Canadian is aware of prevention, symptoms and treatment of head injuries.
With a need for head injury education in Canada, the Rowan’s Law Advisory Committee was formed in 2016. The committee has recommended 21 action items, of which 11 have been completed. These recommendations include awareness campaigns, training for coaches and teachers and legislation to protect amateur athletes. iii
Rowan’s Law Day, commemorated on the last Wednesday in September, aims to bring awareness to concussions in sports in hopes to improve head safety in the field.
Rowan was a 17-year-old Ottawa resident who died in the spring of 2013 after suffering multiple head injuries in the span of a week while playing rugby. Rowan was unaware of the severity of her injuries and continued to play until her death. iv
Rowan had three concussions in six days. This led to a condition known as second impact syndrome, which is the swelling of the brain caused by a subsequent injury, occurring before a previous injury has the opportunity to heal.
In Rowan’s case, nobody knew she needed time to heal, including herself. After falling unconscious during a game, Rowan was sent to the hospital where doctors were unable to relieve the pressure in her head. Her family decided to take her off life support and she subsequently died on May 12, 2013. v
“Nobody knew she needed time to heal, including herself.”
Rowan’s Law Day
This unfortunate event led to Rowan's Law (Concussion Safety) being passed in Ontario on March 7, 2018 under the Education Act. The outcome inspired the Ministry of Education to implement legislation with the goal of preventing and protecting students from head injuries.
Under the Education Act, all school boards in Ontario are required to have a policy on concussion safety for students meeting specific requirements. The law came into effect on July 1, 2019 and was updated with new guidelines on January 31, 2020.vi
The new law establishes mandatory requirements that call for:
- Annual review of concussion awareness resources by athletes, parents, coaches and other designated individuals.
- A Concussion Code of Conduct, reviewed by athletes, parents, and other designated individuals, outlining rules of behaviour to minimize concussions while participating in sport.
- Removal-from-sport and return-to-sport protocols, to ensure that an athlete is immediately removed from sport if they are suspected of having sustained a concussion, and appropriate processes are in place to guide their safe return to training and competition.vii
As we approach Rowan’s Law Day on Sept. 30, we are reminded head and brain health is critical when playing sports and participating in recreational activities.
If you or someone you know has experienced a head injury and are looking for support with post-concussion syndrome amidst the pandemic, read our recent blog on Coping with Post-Concussion Syndrome in Isolation.
i Public Health Agency of Canada. “Government of Canada.” Canada.ca, June 7, 2018. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/concussion-sign-symptoms/concussion-sport-infographic.html.
ii Public Health Agency of Canada. “Government of Canada.” Canada.ca, June 7, 2018. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/concussion-sign-symptoms/concussion-sport-infographic.html.
iii Ontario. “Minister’s Year One Progress Report on Rowan’s Law (Concussion Safety), 2018.” ontario.ca, 2018. https://www.ontario.ca/page/ministers-year-one-progress-report-rowans-law-concussion-safety-2018.
iv Government of Ontario. Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Government of Ontario. Accessed September 3, 2020. http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/sport/rowans_law_day.shtml.
v “Ottawa Teen Rugby Player Ignored Concussion Symptoms Days before Death | CBC News.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, May 20, 2015. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/rowan-stringer-ignored-concussion-symptoms-days-before-death-1.3077245.
vi Parachute. Accessed September 3, 2020. https://parachute.ca/en/professional-resource/policy/concussion-policy/.
vii Parachute. Accessed September 3, 2020. https://parachute.ca/en/professional-resource/policy/concussion-policy/.