Jan 29, 2015
Ready For The Worst

When Minnesota Wild defenseman Keith Ballard went crashing to the ice and began convulsing after getting hit from behind during a game a week ago, the reaction of the team’s medical staff was rapid, concise, and successful. And completely rehearsed.
As soon as Ballard showed signs of serious injury, a chain reaction began and the team’s two athletic trainers as well as six other medical personnel had Ballard at the hospital and receiving proper attention minutes after he hit the ice.

“It went exactly the way we had practiced it, and I was real happy with our response and real happy with how everything and everybody just fell into place,” Don Fuller, the Wild’s Head Athletic Therapist, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “You have to expect the unexpected and prepare for anything, and then react to the situation as everybody did.

“We did what was needed,” Fuller continued. “We got the player off safely and effectively and transported to the hospital quickly.”

It was the type of response Fuller and Athletic Trainer John Worley practice every September before the start of the season when they get all eight of the Wild’s team doctors together, along with emergency medical technicians and emergency trauma doctors who will be at the arena for Wild home games. That day, the entire staff spends time running through various emergency scenarios so everybody knows his role and place. Scenarios include heart attack, traumatic bleeding, spinal boarding, concussions, and several other potential incidents.

In this incident, which came in a game against the New York Islanders, Ballard was hit from behind and went sprawling to the ice between the two benches. Seeing that the player was shaking and convulsing, Fuller immediately jumped on the ice and began removing Ballard’s mouthguard to keep him from choking. He then shifted Ballard to his side to better open his airway. After that, Fuller thrust his fist in the air–a signal to the other members of his medical response team.

According to the Star-Tribune:

Once Fuller’s fist went up, Worley, the longtime former head trainer of the Philadelphia Flyers, and massage therapist Travis Green jumped on to assist. At that point, a security guard working in the tunnel leading to the Wild locker room lifted a railing so Regions Hospital medical director RJ Frascone, the on-duty trauma specialist, could jump from the stands and onto the ice. He was sitting in the first row behind backup goalie Darcy Kuemper.

Paramedics raced onto the ice from the Zamboni entrance and Wild doctors Dan Peterson, Sheldon Burns, Brad Nelson, Chris Larson, and Harley Dresner ran to the ice from the locker room.

There was a medical team of about a dozen assisting on the ice.

“There were a lot of qualified people on the ice, that’s all I know,” Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “Whatever Donny did, he knew exactly what he was doing.”

Once at the hospital, Ballard was diagnosed with a concussion and three fractures to the right side of his face. Despite the serious nature of the injuries, players who witnessed the incident, say watching Fuller and his staff react so efficiently was very reassuring.

“Standing there on the bench–and I was probably two feet away watching it all go down–it was amazing how good a job Don did and then how fast everyone else was out there,” Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. “You see these doctors show up every game and they’re sitting having their dinner in the back room and then the emergency room guy walks in and says hi.

“You almost take it for granted. But then to see how well they work together and what they did for Keith, it gives you a lot of confidence as a player. It makes you feel like you’re in good hands.”

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