The last Wednesday of every September has been declared Rowan's Law Day to promote concussion awareness and safety. This year, Rowan's Law Day will be commemorated on Wednesday, September 25th, 2019.
Rowan Stringer, a high school rugby player from Ottawa, died at age 17 on Mother's Day in 2013 as a result of suffering multiple concussions. Rowan suffered three concussions in the span of six days while playing rugby1, which remained undetected by her parents, teachers, coaches, and peers. The cause of Rowan's death was determined to be second impact syndrome, which is swelling of the brain caused by a subsequent injury to the brain before the previous brain injury fully healed.2
A concussion is a brain injury, which can result in permanent brain damage, disability, and death.3 It is caused by one or several blows to the head, face, neck, or body that transmits force to the head, causing the brain to move within the skull.4 Concussions can happen anywhere and are not limited to sports. They can occur at work, school, or at home, or in motor vehicle, bicycle, or pedestrian collisions. The leading causes of head injuries in Ontario were sports (45%), followed by falls (16%) and bicycle collisions (5%).5
Concussions can be subtle and difficult to detect, so it is important to be aware of common physical, cognitive, and emotional signs and symptoms. These include, but are not limited to:
- Pressure in the head
- Ringing in the ears
- Memory loss
- Nausea or vomiting
- Light or sound sensitivity
- Blurred vision
- Balance problems
- Poor concentration
- Memory issues
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately and follow the health practitioner's directions.
In addition to Rowan's Law Day, MPP Lisa MacLeod advocated for change in Rowan's Law (Bill 193), which was given royal assent on March 7, 2018. Rowan's Law (Concussion Safety), 2018 makes it mandatory for sports organizations in Ontario to:
- Ensure athletes under 26 years old, parents of athletes under 18, coaches, team trainers and officials confirm every day that they reviewed Ontario's Concussion Awareness Resources;
- Establish a Concussion Code of Conduct that establishes rules of behaviour to support concussion prevention; and
- Establish a Removal-from-Sport and Return-to-Sport protocol.6
If you, as an athlete or spectator, suspect a concussion has occurred, you should:
- Remove yourself or the athlete from the activity, even if you feel fine or the athlete insists they are ok.
- Get yourself or the athlete examined by a physician or a nurse.
- Support gradual and safe return to sport.7
With Rowan's Law in effect and Rowan's Law Day officially designated, Ontario has proven to be a leader in concussion awareness and prevention in Canada. Rowan's father, Gordon Stringer, highlighted the need for change across the country: "The heavy lifting has been done here in Ontario. But this is not an Ontario issue. This is something that needs to be addressed across Canada".8
While commemorating Rowan, it is hoped that this tragic and preventable death will spark more concussion awareness, safety, and prevention in the rest of the country.
8 Supra, note 3.
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