The winner of the 2015 HOME (Health Oriented Motion picture Excellence) Academy award is Concussion with Will Smith, a movie which succeeds over the 4 other nominees Grandma, Freeheld, Pawn Sacrifice and The Farewell Party.
In an outstanding performance by Will Smith who portrays pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, the actor shows the difficult fight the real physician Dr. Omalu faced in taking on the National Football League and even his own medical colleagues in order to describe and call public awareness to the medical condition CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, in football players. The film is directed by Peter Landesman, and written by Peter Landesman and Jeanne Marie Laskas. In supporting roles that help this film realistically demonstrate the results of repeated concussions, and the difficulties faced by Dr. Omalu, Alec Baldwin plays Dr. Julian Bailes, Albert Brooks plays Dr. Cyril Wecht, Luke Wilson plays NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and David Morse plays Pittsburgh Steeler football player Mike Webster who died with CTE.
Why are health themed movies important to be produced and recognized by this annual award? Film is a prominent part of our lives. In 2014, 1.35 billion tickets were sold for movies in theaters, and even more people viewed movies at home via TV, cable, and electronic devices. Motion pictures may just entertain, but also can serve as a source of family discussions, social dialogue, and even political debate. Since health issues are among the 10 most important issues of our time, and the most important issue in some families facing health and/or medical insurance problems, portrayal of these issues in good movies helps us to learn more about the health issues, focus our attention and begin conversations that can change our attitudes and effect our decisions. And when such decisions actually help make our lives better or increase our quality of life, film goes beyond being just an entertainment and actually transforms our existence.
Concussion now joins the winners in prior years: 2014 with Still Alice (addressing the issue of dementia), and 2013 with Dallas Buyers Club (portraying issues of life threatening diagnosis, finding a good doctor, and access to research drugs). Why is Concussion the best of the year 2015?
The film calls our attention to the issue of concussion and the consequences of brain trauma. Concussion is a very common problem. In America, over 1.8 million concussions occur annually in sports, and even more occur through accidents, falls, violence, and combat injuries. This number underestimates the problem. Mild symptoms of a concussion rarely come to the attention of a doctor, but can have complications later. Concussions result in 2.5 million emergency room visits annually with 280,000 hospital admissions, and cost the American economy $60 billion each year.
Symptoms of concussion from hitting your head can include headache, loss of balance, dizziness, blurred vision, annoyance by light or noise, felling groggy or down, amnesia before or after a hit to the head, feeling dazed, confusion, clumsy movement, staggering, loss of consciousness, slowness in answering, change in mood or behavior, crying, ringing in the ears, change in taste or smell, numbness or tingling, slurred speech, having one pupil larger, or even seizure. Following a concussion, 15% of people have symptoms that persist for more than 1 year!
The film portrays many of the symptoms. Although the film deals with football induced brain injury and CTE, of course encephalopathy due to brain trauma has been seen in many other sports, including boxing, biking, baseball, horse riding, skateboarding, hockey, skiing, lacrosse, soccer, wrestling, gymnastics, martial arts, basketball, volleyball, rugby and even cheerleading.
Prompted by this award winning and important film Concussion with Will Smith, here are my tips on concussions and prevention:
• Carefully consider which sports you or your children should participate in. Be well trained in the sport and how to be safe during practices and competitions.
• When participating in a sport prone to head injury, always use a helmet that is certified, maintained, age-appropriate. Learn how to use it properly. If your son or daughter is participating in a sport, as she/he grows older, get a new helmet that fits properly. Don't leave home without it!
• If a head injury occurs, and any symptoms (listed above) are observed, stop the sport immediately and see a physician or emergency facility.
• Be fit by exercising and train for safe sport participation.
• Avoid falls by using railings, good stairway lighting, obstacle free hallways, safe stools and avoiding alcohol and drug abuse.
• Use seatbelts.
• Report domestic violence and use medical and social support to avoid continuing violence.
• If you have had one concussion, you are more likely to have more severe symptoms lasting longer following another head trauma. So be especially careful is you have that medical history of a concussion.
• Following a head injury, discuss any symptoms listed above with your physician and expect a complete examination, and possibly also head CT scan or MRI. If your symptoms do not improve with your doctor's initial care, consider asking for a neurology consultation or get a second opinion. For advice on getting a second opinion, see my book Surviving American Medicine.
When you watch films, it's always OK to just be entertained, but also take the time to look for issues that relate to your own life and discuss them with family and friends after the end credits stop rolling.