If you’ve recently attended an area high school sporting event or practice, it’s likely you’ve seen one of Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s athletic trainers at work.
LMH Sports Care provides athletic training services for seven schools: both Lawrence high schools, as well as Eudora, Baldwin City, Tonganoxie, Basehor-Linwood and Leavenworth. Trainers also cover some events for Perry-Lecompton and McLouth high schools, and they staff Kansas Jayhawks rugby practices and games.
“We cover all sports, and give priority to the sports with the highest risks,” says Adam Rolf, LMH Sports Care rehab manager. “Football and soccer are tops.
“We also want to be able to cover events in the community — such as the Brew to Brew run, which ends in Lawrence, and the hospital’s Summer Spray 5Ks in Tonganoxie, Baldwin City and Eudora.”
Rolf says LMH’s decision to take on the athletic trainer program last January from OrthoKansas shines a light on the hospital’s commitment to be a partner in the lifelong health of people in our communities. For many years, OrthoKansas has supported area schools’ athletic trainers, and OrthoKansas physicians continue to serve as medical directors for the program.
Athletic trainers work with students after school and during practices and games. They assess athletes’ injuries and help with rehabilitation. Before games and practices, they tape athletes and encourage them to stretch, all while ensuring the student-athletes are thinking about hydration.
“They help prevent injuries, working with coaches to keep the environment safe,” Rolf says. “And they react quickly if there is an injury to triage the situation.”
One Lawrence grandmother discovered just how prepared LMH athletic trainers are. Last February, Phyllis Wheeler suffered a heart attack minutes after she walked into Free State High School, where she had planned to watch her granddaughter play basketball.
“I was going to get a program, and I just fell over,” she says.
Meghan Chaffin, the athletic trainer at Free State, helped stabilize Wheeler until an ambulance arrived.
“Everyone says it’s a miracle that I’m still alive, and had it not been for the trainer and being at Free State, I would not have been,” Wheeler says.
The athletic trainer program at Free State has proved valuable, says Mike Hill, the school’s athletic director.
“It’s worked extraordinarily well over the years, and it continues to be an asset for our school and our kids,” he says. “Coaches are not trained medical professionals. The trainers help identify and care for injuries. They provide communication between the student and the coach — and the family and physician and the coach. That allows our coaches to have more knowledge about what’s going on with athletes.”
Trainers at Free State have developed good relationships with student-athletes — a helpful component when providing care.
“We’ve been fortunate to have trainers here who our kids feel good about confiding in,” Hill says. “Maybe they won’t share with a coach that their ankle is bothering them. But they will talk to the trainer.”
Recent Free State graduate Zach Sanders says Chaffin often offered him advice about more than sports.
“She was pushing me in the right direction, telling me what I need to do, helping me keep my head on right and being aware of what I need to do to be successful,” he says. “She does a good job of creating relationships with the athletes and not being a stranger to everyone.”
And Chaffin helped Zach fast-forward rehabilitation of a torn thumb ligament. Zach, a multi-sport high school athlete who will play football this fall at Missouri State University in Springfield, says Chaffin is alert to athletes’ injuries.
“If something doesn’t look right to her, she’s on it,” Zach says. “She does a really good job with first aid.”
Athletic trainers always are alert, looking for indicators of injury and for opportunities to educate athletes and coaches.
Because there’s no such thing as a typical day for a high school athletic trainer, the job is perfect for Mark Padfield, who is president of the Kansas Athletic Trainers Society. He thrives in the ever-changing landscape.
“There’s a kid who walks through the door limping, and I’ve got to figure out what’s wrong — from what a 14-year-old teenage boy tells me,” says Padfield, who both teaches and is the athletic trainer at Tonganoxie High School. “I like the challenge of it. I like the variety. The reason I wanted to get into athletic training is because I wanted to be able to figure out that puzzle.”
As a track and field athlete at Kansas State University in the mid-1990s, Padfield understands firsthand the importance of his job.
“We’re the first line of defense for the student-athlete,” he says. “Our job is a lot of prevention. And there’s a lot education involved.”
That education extends out of the locker room and off the football field. As part of his role with the state trainers association, Padfield and others have been working with first responders to ensure they know, for example, how to team up with trainers to safely remove a helmet from an injured football player.
Padfield and other LMH trainers also pass along their knowledge to students in training programs at the University of Kansas and Washburn University.
One lesson is clear.
“There’s no typical day,” Padfield says. “You never know what you’re going to see. It’s a good day if you’re bored.
“But if something happens, we’re there.”
— Caroline Trowbridge is marketing communications manager for Lawrence Memorial Hospital, which is a major sponsor of WellCommons. She can be reached at email@example.com.