New Brunswick

Former NHL player returns to Saint John High School with warning about concussions

Former Boston Bruins player Andrew McKim, who graduated from Saint John High School in 1988, returned to his alma mater Thursday to warn students that untreated head injuries can ruin a life.

Former Boston Bruin Andrew McKim tells students at his alma mater about dangers of untreated head injuries

Andrew McKim did not play professional hockey again after he was hit from behind and suffered a concussion. (Andrew McKim/Submitted)

Former Boston Bruins player Andrew McKim, who graduated from Saint John High School in 1988, returned to his alma mater Thursday to warn students that untreated head injuries can ruin a life.

To drive the point home, he showed an image taken seconds after the hit that ended his professional hockey career. 

The photo shows McKim on his hands and knees, hunched over a blood puddle on the ice, after former Detroit Red Wings forward Kevin Miller hit him from behind during a game in Zurich.

It was October 2000 and McKim can't remember the moment at all — or anything from the 18 months that followed.

He hasn't been able to read a book since that day.

"I can read but I can't focus," he said.

McKim said he lives with the effects of numerous concussions during his hockey career. (Rachel Cave/CBC)
Living in St. John's, N.L., since 1991, McKim runs his own hockey school and sees a lot of kids involved in sport.

He said young athletes need to report their injuries so they can get the help they need to heal — but he says walking away from competition, money or scouting opportunities can be tough.

"They're afraid of not performing," said McKim. "They're afraid of peer pressure. Parents ... are sometimes the biggest cause of non-disclosure of injuries because they want their kids back on the field as soon as possible."

Don't go back in the game

Orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Dr. Jennifer Fletcher also presented during Thursday's health symposium. She showed videos to illustrate concussion symptoms, including a scene of one soccer player trying to stand on wobbly legs. 

Dr. Jennifer Fletcher, an orthopedic surgeon and specialist in sports medicine, said it takes a student an average of 30 days to be symptom-free after suffering a concussion.
"If you see one of your teammates getting up like this, they should not go back into the game," said Fletcher.

"You don't have to be knocked out with a concussion. It could be a blow to the body. The brain snaps around and bounces around in your skull and causes injury to your brain."

Fletcher said concussions are no longer graded or described as "mild" or "severe."

"And symptoms don't have to be right away. They can be in the locker room or driving home."

Fletcher says high school athletes usually take an average of 30 days to be symptom-free and back in action.

Raising awareness

Thursday's symposium, which also covered issues such as drug use and vaping, was organized by teacher Chris Graham.

Saint John High School teacher Chris Graham said the school has a protocol to follow when a student suffers a concussion. (Rachel Cave/CBC)
He said he's been pushing concussion awareness for the past four years but the incident on P.E.I. involving a Grade 12 rugby player who suffered a fatal head injury made the issue feel more urgent.

Graham said the school also works on injury prevention through good coaching and fitness training. 

However, the teacher said accidents still happen in sports and in life and when they do, the school has a return-to-learn protocol that supports students by giving them the time they need to recover and access to rehabilitation experts. 

"Having a trained concussion specialist that this child can go to makes a world of difference," said Graham.

He monitors students from the time they report an incident to the time they return to regular activities.

Saint John High School gets about a dozen concussion cases per year, he said.