Caring for the stars

Friday, April 1, 2011
On the sidelines, athletic trainer Gregg Cloutier helps a young player get into the game.

Police officers say the worst part of their job is telling the next of kin about highway fatalities, but consider the call made by an athletic trainer from a football field here to tell a mother her son is in a helicopter ambulance bound for Nashville and he can't move or feel anything.

It was at a junior varsity game between Marshall County and Giles County.

"They hit head to head," athletic trainer Gregg Cloutier said. "I checked out my kid first. The Giles coach said, 'You really need to look at my kid.'

"He told me, 'I can't move and I can't feel anything,'" Cloutier continued.

This story ends well.

"He had some swelling on his spine," the athletic trainer said of the Giles County player, "and he turned out to be fine."

Nationally, medical experts are re-examining the effects of concussions on athletes. Even military officers have realized that soldiers who suffer a concussion in combat deserve a Purple Heart even though the injury doesn't bleed out.

Monday, Marshall County commissioners applauded Cloutier and his fellow athletic trainer, Emily Spears. A county resolution honoring Spears' and Cloutier's work was adopted unanimously. The athletic trainers are paid by Marshall Medical Center and, therefore, by its parent organization, Maury Regional Healthcare System (MRHS).

When things get really bad, Spears and/or Cloutier call Dr. Jeff Adams of Columbia who explains the athletic trainers' work in conjunction with Maury Regional Medical Center's physical therapy division.

"Both have my cell number and I get calls and texts all the time," Dr. Adams said. "They can handle most things, but there are things they can't and then I can get the student athletes in the hospital pretty quick...

"There may be multiple fractures," Adams said. "I think the coaches have their numbers memorized.

"Coaches are great, but they're not trained to take care of head injuries..." or to deal with a variety of other complicated matters, the doctor said.

Adams endorsed the program more than a decade ago and it's extended from Marshall Medical Center.

"We have a good relationship with the administrator of the hospital," Robert Otwell, CEO of MRHS, Adams said. "We meet with him on a monthly basis."

The medical center here is owned by MRHS.

Administrators and hospital boards have realized that providing athletic trainers is a worthwhile public service that reaps rewards. Adams and Cloutier cite circumstances that include advice to other residents that their personal pain or injury may be eased and/or cured by MRHS services.

"Our main goal is prevention and rehabilitation," Cloutier said.

That service leads to other responsibilities.

"Sometimes, kids have problems at home or with drugs," Cloutier continued. "We're not barking orders at them, so some feel comfortable talking confidentially with us.

"It's a minor role, but it's a role most people don't know about," he said while explaining the job of an athletic trainer, a career that - even to sports fans - may not be well understood.

Cloutier and Spears provide services for all kinds of sports and their calls have been as off-beat as one from a bowling team reporting that someone slipped in the bathroom at the bowling alley.

Cloutier and Spears are certified for their work and both provide substantially the same service. His service is based in Lewisburg. Hers is in Chapel Hill. Calls to Spears resulted in no contact. She did, however, hear Marshall County Commissioner Dean Delk read the county resolution and she was standing with the commissioners and other county officials as they applauded her and Cloutier.