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High school athletes get more medical attention at St. Louis sports clinics

High school athletes in St. Louis are getting a lot of attention this fall with two walk-in clinics specializing in sports injuries and the addition of in-house athletic trainers at two schools.

Both SLU and Washington University offer walk-in sports injury clinics during after-school and Saturday hours. In addition, a full-time certified athletic trainer now attends practices and games at St. Mary’s and Bishop DuBourg high schools in a partnership among St. Louis University, SLU Hospital and the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Washington University sports medicine specialists are booking patient appointments into December, a sign of the demand for more access to care, said Dr. Heidi Prather, Washington University professor of orthopedic surgery. Fewer specialists are accepting patients with government insurance, which has also increased the need. The sports injury clinics can help fill the void between expensive emergency rooms and urgent care centers that aren’t equipped to handle complex orthopedic conditions, Prather said.

Bridget Quirk graduated in May from SLU’s master’s program in athletic training and was hired to work with the two archdiocese high schools. She attends to players’ injuries, helps with physical therapy and coordinates care with SLU orthopedic specialists. She’s already earned the nickname “Coach Q” for her sideline work.

Most suburban school districts hire athletic trainers on a contract basis for their student athletes, but the archdiocese schools had limited ability to staff trainers only at home games. Coaches typically have basic first aid training, but are not qualified to identify and manage concussions or other more serious injuries.

“They’re getting a lot of treatment that they didn’t get before,” said Mark Hacker, athletic director at St. Mary’s, where about 150 students play sports. “We don’t have doctors and lawyers as parents. There’s no way we could offer to do this without SLU’s help.”

Alex DeMatteis, St. Mary’s head varsity football coach, said bringing in an athletic trainer has been the most welcome change he’s experienced in 13 years of coaching.

“It’s almost scary to make a decision whether someone is hurt or injured, and you have to err on shutting players down,” DeMatteis said. Quirk “can give us instant feedback and get us back on the field as soon as possible. It leaves me to coach football, and that’s what I want to do.”

Quirk gives the coaches daily injury reports on their players. Lorenza Clark, 15, planted his foot wrong and suffered a sprained ankle in a defensive drill in practice. On Tuesday, Quirk wrapped and iced the ankle and gave the freshman player advice on over-the-counter painkillers. She’s also working with a few student athletes who have suffered concussions in practice.

Having the on-site trainer keeps the players from waiting to see a doctor or risking the injury getting worse, said Anthony Breitbach, director of the athletic training program at SLU. Two of the university’s orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine physicians will be available at Bishop DuBourg and St. Mary’s home football games.

“They’re not getting the emergency room or urgent care approach, they’re treated with the same protocols that any athlete at SLU would get,” Breitbach said.

The hospital and the university contributed more than $50,000 for the program, which is free to the archdiocese schools. With more funding, the program could expand to area public schools.

On Saturday mornings during the fall, SLU Hospital is offering a sports clinic for injured high school and college athletes. Washington University opened its own walk-in clinic in Chesterfield, offering access to sports medicine and orthopedics specialists on Saturday mornings plus afternoons and evenings during the week. Both clinics will offer X-rays.

“We’re hoping to see the athletes in high school sports where you really need to know if it’s safe for the kid to continue to play,” said Prather of Washington University. “The hope is if you have the appropriate diagnosis from the front end, the treatment is directed at the specific problem and the time out is reduced.”

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