June 2001 Bulletin

Special Olympics athletes show courage

Orthopaedist treats injuries; helps participants achieve high level of performance

By Carolyn Rogers

The Special Olympics oath is: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." Jeffrey Richmond, MD, witnessed some of that bravery at the 2001 Special Olympics Winter Games in Anchorage, Alaska, where he served as a member of the volunteer medical staff.

"I was very impressed by the way the athletes wanted to get back to competition pretty much regardless of their injuries," he reports.

Dr. Richmond, chief resident in orthopaedic surgery at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, was sent by his department to participate in the March 3-11 event, in which more than 2,000 athletes with mental retardation participated.

"One athlete from Illinois, a woman with Down’s syndrome who must have been about 23, came in a couple of times with a knee injury," Dr. Richmond says. "She injured it in one of the preliminary training runs, but wanted to go back and compete. She went back out and won a medal, and then hurt herself again. Eventually she took herself out of the competition. But she vowed that she’d be back."

Another courageous athlete Dr. Richmond encountered was a man from Spain, also in his 20s, who sustained a wrist fracture. "Still, he insisted on going back out to compete. He skied to finish his event before going to the hospital."

Dr. Richmond was assigned to the alpine ski venue. "It was my job to provide acute medical care—most of which was orthopaedic—to the athletes and their delegations," he says. "We saw mostly routine ski injuries, several fractures, a couple of which turned out to be operative—predominantly knee injuries."

The ski area was staffed primarily by the Alaska Disaster Medical Assistance Team. Dr. Richmond was the only physician volunteer from out of state, and the only physician at the ski area, which was 40 miles from Anchorage—the
primary site of competition. Trauma nurses and paramedics from around the country—members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—volunteered to provide medical care at the ski venue as well. Numerous volunteers were on hand to work the generators in order to keep the medical tent heated and to keep the area adequately stocked with supplies.

The whole Special Olympics program was very impressive and extremely well organized, Dr. Richmond says.

"It was pretty amazing—there were between 7,000 and 8,000 volunteers there," he says. "With 70 or so countries represented, the international presence was very significant. Volunteer language interpreters were present with the athletes at all times—translators were available as soon as they entered the medical tent. We also were provided with fairly detailed medical records on all the athletes, particularly the ones who had cervical spine issues. Behavioral specialists were available as well, although I didn’t witness any behavioral problems."

Dr. Richmond spent six days staffing the medical tent at the Alpine ski venue, but he did manage to take in a hockey game and a figure skating competition.

"I had a great time," Dr. Richmond says. "I think the thing that struck me the most was that normally when we’re taking care of people with these problems—particularly Down’s syndrome—we’re focusing so much on what’s wrong. It was so nice to be there, helping them to achieve a high level of performance. It put this whole group of patients in a very different light for me."

Special Olympics is an international program of year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for more than a million children and adults with mental retardation. The Special Olympics offer participants continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

Special Olympics programs exist in 150 countries and chapters in all 50 states in the U.S., the District of Columbia, Guam, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa. Ireland will host the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

The Academy originally planned to participate in the Healthy Athletes program at the 2001 Special Olympics Winter Games, repeating their experience at the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer games in North Carolina. As part of an overall budget reduction, however, the Academy elected not to participate this year.

"We were very happy when the Academy decided they were going to support the Special Olympics," says Joseph D. Zuckerman, MD, chairman of the department of orthopaedic surgery at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases. "So we made a commitment to send one of our residents there at our expense. We recognized, as the Academy did, that this was an important program, and decided to continue to provide the support of orthopaedic surgery."

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