One hit. That’s all it took to change Matt Eagles’ future completely. Matt can’t count how many times he collided with the boards during the 19 years he played hockey. He’d even been injured before. But this time was different. This time he wasn’t prepared and it knocked him out cold.
When he came to, he could sense something was wrong. It wasn’t the muffled sounds of his coach’s voice or the confusion that clouded his brain like a thick blanket of fog. It was the dread that set in as he realized this was it. This was the hit that would force him to hang up his skates—indefinitely.
Hockey is in Matt’s blood. He grew up at the rink, travelling around with his father, a former professional forward in the National Hockey League, for 15 seasons. Matt was groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps, playing four years of Major Junior Hockey and then three at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B., where he earned his bachelor of arts in economics. He was on his way to achieving his dream until the last in a series of repeated concussions forced him to prematurely retire from sport.
Invited to tell his story at an injury prevention convention, Matt met Dr. Charles Tator, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto and founder of Think First Canada (now a part of Parachute Canada). It was during his early hockey days that Matt first learned about the importance of concussion safety from the Think First video series. Inspired by Dr. Tator’s initiatives, Matt wondered how he too, could use his personal experience to help young athletes, coaches and parents stay informed about concussion safety.
The curricular requirements of medical school are known to place heavy demands on a student’s time. The Faculty of Medicine gave this careful consideration when it established a new curriculum in an effort to educate and foster well-rounded doctors. Special projects were introduced to encourage students like Matt and his peers to research topics outside the curriculum. Dean James Rourke hopes to sharpen the minds of medical students while uncovering new areas of medical research.
Medical school is also known for forging tight relationships quickly. Matt and four of his peers had already bonded over their mutual interest in brain injuryand used the curriculum time dedicated to special projects to delve deeper in concussion safety education.
After pitching the idea to the faculty and getting a positive response, the group obtained a supervisor and founded Concussion-U, an interest group that aims to make sports safer for youth through education on sports-related injury. The group delivers pertinent safety and health information in an accessible and captivating way that resonates with youth.
Bradbury-Squires Medicine, Class of 2017
While a high grade was the academic goal, Matt was invested in the extracurricular work for more personal reasons. He wanted to ensure young athletes understood the importance of putting their health first. He’s aware of the pressures young athletes feel to perform, even if that means pushing through the pain of an injury. The locker room logic is that if you can tough it out to the end of the game, you should. But Matt warns youth that this isn’t a good idea, especially if there’s a possible head injury.
He’s also keen to remind people that you don’t need to hit your head to sustain a concussion. The brain is suspended in a protective blanket of fluid within the skull. It’s the collision of brain tissue with skull bone that causes brain injury. Any sudden impact to the body causing the head to jar and the brain to thrash about within the skull can lead to a concussion.
Matt can remember his first concussion vividly. Not the impact, or the immediate blackout, but the after-effects. Cartoons will depict images of birds and stars swirling overhead and Matt says that’s not far from the hallucinations some people experience after sustaining a concussion. For him it was a blinding white light immediately followed by an intense, incessant ringing in his ears. He doesn’t like to use to the term ”having his bell rung” but can’t deny the phrase’s accuracy in describing a concussion symptom. Symptoms are warning signs that he and the group at Concussion-U advise youth, parents and coaches not to ignore.
- Sensitivity to noise/light
- Feeling mentally foggy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Forgetful of events
- Repeats questions
- More emotional
- Sleeping less than usual
- Sleeping more than usual
- Trouble falling asleep
Matt is conscious of Concussion-U’s message. He doesn’t want to discourage youth from playing sports. Sport can do wonders for the body and mind, even if it comes with an increased risk of injury. Instead, Concussion-U praises sport safety education and attempts to empower athletes to recognize and manage symptoms if injury occurs. They also offer advice and support, both physical and emotional, for people who are suffering from recent a concussion.
An ambassador for concussion management and safety, Matt doesn’t just target athletes. A committed caretaker, he’ll speak to anyone who’ll listen, be it friends, family or even strangers. He understands that head injuries aren’t limited to sports. Accidents happen in life. That’s why he serves to remind people that their best defence against concussion is a well-informed offence.