As the athletic director at Bishop Alexander Carter Catholic Secondary School Jean-Gilles Larocque has seen first-hand the impact concussions can have on his students.
He remembers one star athlete at the school who seemed off one day.
Larocque suspected the student had a concussion, but due to pressure from his hockey coach, he went on to play later that day.
In that game the student received a puck to the head.
“When I see that kid, he could be eating steak through a straw in three years,” Larocque said. “Wins and losses aren't important, it's the kid's health that's important.”
The long-term effects of concussions have long been misunderstood, but a growing body of research has shown too many brain injuries can lead to epilepsy, post-traumatic headaches, post-traumatic vertigo, a decreased quality of life and, according to some studies, increasing the risk of an early death.
Through his side business, the Baseball Academy, Larocque was acquainted with an Ohio-based company called Dynavision that makes a number of medical and sports training devices.
Larocque thought the company's latest device, the Dynavision D2, could be useful to improve baseball players' hand-eye coordination and reaction times.
It turned out the machine could also help detect concussion symptoms.
Because Bishop Alexander has a specialist high skills major with a fitness focus, the school was able to access funds to purchase a $20,000 Dynavision D2.
The machine consists of a black board with 64 raised buttons (or targets as the company calls them) that are fitted with light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
Through a number of exercises the targets light up – in red or green – and the user is instructed to push them as fast as possible.
Once they complete the exercise a program measures their reaction time.
The device also has a screen in the centre – called a T-scope – that can display words or numbers.
The screen can add an extra layer of difficulty to the exercises, by getting users to multitask by completing simple math problems or reading out words and they hit the lit-up targets.
Marissa Knight, an occupational therapist and clinical specialist with Dynavision, was at Bishop Alexander Tuesday to train staff how to use the machine and perform the various exercises.
The school plans to test all students in September to establish their baselines for reaction speed and hand-eye coordination.
If a teacher suspects a student has suffered a concussion they can test them again. A much lower score on the tests would mean they should see a doctor.
Larocque said he hopes to reach out to community partners to offer the machine for testing and training purposes.
Greater Sudbury's hockey and football associations, for instance, could do baseline tests for their players, and test them again if they suspect a brain injury.
Dynavision's customers include sports organizations, but also hospitals, where the machines are used to help with physical rehabilitation, and tactical professionals, such as police officers and soldiers.
Sgt. Daryl Adams, a member of the Greater Sudbury Police Service's tactical unit, was at the Bishop Alexander training session to see if the Dynavision D2 could benefit his unit.
He said the exercises can help police officers better perform the split-second decisions and tasks they must sometimes use in the field.