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On-ice emergencies: Local medical teams prep for U.S. Figure Skating Championships

On-ice emergencies: Local medical teams prep for U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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GREENSBORO — A group of doctors clustered around Dominic McKenley and moved him to a rigid spine board before carrying him off the ice.

But McKenley wasn’t injured after attempting a triple axel or any other skating maneuver. He wasn’t even wearing skates.

Instead, McKenley served as a stand-in for a real injured skater during recent training for on-ice medical emergencies at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships being held next week at the Greensboro Coliseum. McKenley was one of 15 medical personnel participating in the training that day at The Ice House, a skating facility in Greensboro.

“It’s a chance for the physicians and athletic trainers to practice cervical spine immobilization just in case we have an injured skater out on the ice,” said Dr. Timothy Draper, the medical director for the event.

Cone Health is the official medical provider for the championships. The hospital is working with Guilford County Emergency Medical Services to be rinkside for any bumps, sprains or emergencies.

Draper is also program director for the Sports Medicine Fellowship, which enlisted for the skating championships 30 volunteers, most of whom are sports medicine doctors with Cone.

“All of us are used to immobilizing and spine boarding other athletes like football players,” Draper said. “When you start adding the element of ice to things, things get tricky.”

No one knows that more than Dr. Mark Jenkins, a surgeon at Reidsville’s Annie Penn Hospital, which is part of the Cone system. This is his third time being a medical volunteer for the event.

He also helped out when Greensboro hosted the championship in 2011 and 2015.

“Obviously, working on ice, working with professional athletes, you have to up your game,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins has a family history with the sport. His parents were competitive figure skaters, with both capturing medals at the 1956 Olympics and his mother taking home the gold medal at the 1960 Olympics.

While Jenkins doesn’t follow competitive skating, he likes the chance to be near the skaters.

“You don’t appreciate how athletic they are until you’re ringside to see them actually jump. Seeing it on TV is one thing, but to see someone being lifted up above your shoulders, to see it in real time is breathless,” he said.

For some of the doctors, it’s their first time volunteering for the event.

“It’s a new experience. Something I haven’t done before,” said Jeremy Schmitz, who is a private doctor of sports medicine and trained through the Sports Medicine Fellowship, though he is not a member.

Schmitz grew up on the baseball fields and basketball courts of the Midwest, far from ice rinks.

He appreciates the chance to expand his knowledge beyond the types of injuries in those arenas.

“With sports medicine, I like to cover things I never had experience with just to get that new experience,” he said.

In addition to equipment typically used by doctors and EMS, the medical teams will wear special elastic cleats called Yaktrax over their shoes to help them on the ice.

“It gives you some support, but it’s still a little slick so you have to be careful,” Schmitz said.

Draper said the main thing the doctors had to deal with at the past two championships was the flu.

“We just want to be prepared,” he said. “The chances that we have a significant spinal or head injury are low in figure skating, which is great, but we’ve got to make sure we’re prepared just in case.”

Contact Carl Wilson at 336-373-7145.

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