Olympian Jake Pates to hold fundraiser bringing concussion education and awareness to Eagle County
Pates wants to introduce baseline brain scans for local athletes in concussion-prone sports
In December of 2017, Eagle resident Jake Pates had a single focus: To make it to the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Four years later, Pates is focused on a different goal which he also intends to achieve: Modernizing the standard of concussion management for athletes.
Pates wants to bring his hometown community together to recognize that returning to play before your brain has healed can result in serious mental health problems, and he has planned a public event in Edwards on Tuesday to discuss the issue with a panel of experts.
Pates said the event is fortunate to host guest speaker Dr. Syed Asad, a traumatic brain injury board certified neurologist and Harvard board certified doctor in Nuclear Medicine. Pates will also appear on the panel.
A donation to Pates’ newly formed nonprofit Happy Healthy Brain Foundation will get you tickets on Eventbrite.com.
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‘Before my brain had healed’
Following his performance in the snowboard halfpipe finals at the 2018 Olympics, Pates career trajectory continued upward as he would go on to earn one of the most coveted items in the world of snowboarding, a medal at the X Games.
But Pates had also suffered numerous head injuries along the way.
“Now, I deal with the repercussions of returning to snow before my brain had fully healed,” Pates said in a video he released in August. “Because of this, I have what is called post-concussion syndrome, or PCS. I continue to have symptoms that affect my life every day, and sadly, I’ve also had friends of mine, over the years, die by suicide because of issues related to repeated concussions.”
Pates, rather than returning to competition, decided to start the nonprofit Happy Healthy Brain Foundation, which he calls H2B, in an effort to prevent such tragedies from occurring.
“I realized that I had a history of returning to snow before my brain had healed from concussions,” Pates told the Vail Daily.
And he knew from his own experience that this was a common practice among athletes like him.
“It took a long time to figure out how the foundation could help with the mental health crisis,” he said.
Pates began pouring the same drive that got him to the Olympics into learning more about head injuries and mental health, and came to a key conclusion — the current approach to concussion management for top-level snowsports athletes is outdated.
Athletes like Pates, who risk head injury every time they enter the practice arena, currently do not have their brains scanned before they enter the competition season as a matter of protocol. Pates said this leaves athletes like him, who have suffered a head injury, without a healthy brain scan to which their post-concussion brain scans can be compared. As a result, they don’t have objective data on if and when it is safe to resume their high-flying activities.
“I spent of lot of time educating myself by reading articles and scientific papers and looking at technology company websites that made products used for treatment management and assessments for people with head injuries,” Pates said. “I found a technology company and read their concussion study from the 2020 Journal of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine. The study showed that 38% of the athletes returned to play before their brain had returned to their healthy baseline. They manufacture a portable EEG brain scanning device. I reached out to them and they said they would love to partner with the foundation.”
Returning to play
With a brain-scan partner in place, and the assistance of Dr. Syed Asad, Pates said he’s now ready to host a public event to share with the Eagle County community his efforts to ensure sports enthusiasts know when it’s safe to return to play.
The title of Tuesday’s event is “Return to Play: The missing piece of the concussion puzzle.”
The event will take place at Vail Christian High School starting at 5:15 p.m. with 45 minutes to review the silent auction items. Asad will lead a presentation on concussions from 6-6:30 p.m., and an audience question and answer session will follow from 6:30-7 p.m. with a panel including Pates, H2B technical expert Grace Towers, and David Oakley, Ph.D. who invented the brain scanning device that Pates recommends for baseline scans. The event will include appetizers, desserts and a silent auction.
What: Return To Play: The Missing Piece of the Concussion Puzzle, a fundraiser for Jake Pates’ Happy Healthy Brain Foundation
When: 5:15-7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Vail Christian High School