Healthy Living in the North

Concussion: There’s an app for that!

I’m sure many of us know someone who has suffered a concussion, or been unfortunate enough to experience one personally. I know several of my friends have been diagnosed with a concussion in the last few months alone.

Concussions don’t just happen in major car crashes and extreme hockey hits. A concussion is any blow to the body or head that causes the brain to move around inside the skull. This could be caused by a seemingly minor fall or hit, even where you don’t lose consciousness at all.

There are several red flag symptoms to watch for if you suspect a concussion. If you see any of the following symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Red flag symptoms of concussion

  • Neck pain
  • Increased confusion or irritability
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Seizure or convulsion
  • Weakness in arms/legs
  • Tingling or burning in arms/legs
  • Deteriorating consciousness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe or increasing headache
  • Unusual behaviour change
  • Double vision
App graphic

Concussion Ed is available in the Apple App Store as well as Google Play for Android devices. Concussion Ed is also available via a web-based version for Blackberry and Windows users.

If you or your child has been diagnosed with a concussion, physical and mental rest are important in making a full recovery. Parachute Canada has made learning about concussions and tracking healing easy with their new app, Concussion Ed.

Why download a concussion app?

Parachute Canada cautions:

the real dangers of most concussions occur when the injury is not recognized or is managed incorrectly. Returning to activities too early can put a child at increased risk for future concussions and serious complications.

The Concussion Ed app is designed to provide easy-to-follow information geared towards parents, youth, and educators. Concussion Ed can be used for anyone caring for a child who is suspected of having or recovering from a concussion. This app provides a format to share information with your health care provider to ensure the best care and recovery.

Concussion Ed features

  • Ways to prevent concussions
  • Recognize a concussion
  • Manage symptoms after a concussion
  • Track your recovery

Concussion facts

  • Concussions do not always include a loss of consciousness.
  • Helmets do not protect against concussions, but do protect from skull fractures.
  • A hit to the body can cause a concussion, even if the head was not hit.
  • The signs and symptoms of a concussion can be delayed up to weeks post injury.

Watch Concussion 101: A Primer for Kids and Parents then download Concussion Ed to learn more!

Natasha Thorne

About Natasha Thorne

After many years in southern B.C., Natasha was drawn back to her hometown of Prince George in 2006 by the lure of extended family, sub-boreal forests, and raising her babes exploring the backwoods of her own childhood. Whether nose in a book or in real life, Natasha is an aspiring world traveller planning overseas vacations so she and her husband can give their two children a wider perspective of living in today's global community. As the full time Regional Nursing Lead for Injury Prevention for Northern Health, Natasha is committed to the north and is passionate about supporting the health and well-being of northerners.


Mikaila’s Story – Gear Up for Winter

Mikaila was only 13 years old when a family ski trip to Nelson, BC took a turn for the worse. She recalled the weather conditions at the mountain being very windy and icy that day. She was also not very familiar with her surroundings as it was her first time at this particular location.

snowboarder on a hill

“…the decisions you make about your safety can prevent serious outcomes.”

The last thing Mikaila remembered was waiting in line for the chairlift with her sister, from that moment on her memory was wiped. She was told by her sister that it was going to be their last run of the day, and then the crash happened. Mikaila had lost control. She was headed off the trail weaving quickly through the trees. She believes she most likely hit a patch of ice and was trying to slow down. She turned to carve but crashed right into a tree. Unfortunately, Mikaila was not wearing a helmet.

After the impact from the crash and taking a blow to the head, she was unresponsive and in a coma. Once help had arrived and she was stabilized, Mikaila was flown by an emergency helicopter to BC’s Children Hospital in Vancouver. The doctors found a significant amount of intracranial bleeding and debated whether surgery would be necessary or if the bleeding would resolve itself. Mikaila remained on a respirator for 2 and ½ days. Her total hospital stay was 6 days; 3 days in the intensive care unit and few on the ward with her family at her side. The doctor believed that a helmet would have deflected the impact of the crash and protected her brain.

Mikaila shared that the first thing she remembered was the breathing tube being pulled from her throat accompanied by a couple flashes of her family nearby. Her recovery continued at home with a long stretch of time spent on bed rest. Although she is an active individual, involved in many sports, Mikaila was unable to get back into all of her activities for some time following the crash. When she was allowed to play soccer again she was advised not to head the ball and had to be very cautious. Mikaila was very fortunate but the impact on herself and family has had lasting effects.

Mikaila received a helmet that following Christmas as a gift and encourages everyone to wear one as well. She stated, “To this day I have never been able to remember the crash or even the recovery in the hospital, so it almost feels like it didn’t happen to me. I still go snowboarding as often as I can and I’m committed to wearing my helmet on every run. If I forget, my mom is sure there to remind me of the dangers and how lucky I am to be here today!”

What is the take-home message to Mikaila’s story? Injuries happen in predictable patterns and the decisions you make about your safety can prevent serious outcomes. Wearing a helmet can make a difference in reducing the risk of a head injury while keeping you active and having fun on the hill with your family and friends, doing what you love. So next time you hit the slopes, take a minute to remember Mikaila’s story and your safety. Gear up for winter!

You can win a new winter sport helmet by entering your favourite place to ‘gear up’ on northern BC – check out our Facebook page (by 2pm, Thursday, Jan. 28) for more details!


Alandra Kirschner

About Alandra Kirschner

Originally from Abbotsford, Alandra moved to northern B.C. in 2012 to pursue schooling to become a Registered Nurse. A 4th year UNBC student (BS, Nursing), Alandra is passionate about her field, especially acute care and mental health/addictions. In her free time, you’ll find her practicing yoga, watching movies, camping, and travelling.


Gear up for winter

Winter forest

Where do you most like to gear up for the winter? Tell us on our Facebook Page for yuor chance to win a ski/winter sport helmet!

Have you set any goals for the New Year yet? How about starting the year off with making a commitment to wearing a helmet while engaging in your favourite winter sports and activities?

According to Parachute Canada, everyone should be gearing up; using the right gear for the sport. It’s estimated that approximately 35 per cent of all skiing and snowboarding head injuries could be prevented by simply wearing a helmet! Especially at risk are youth aged 10-19. This age group has the highest number of preventable injuries related to skiing and snowboarding.

Living in northern B.C., we have ample opportunity to ski, snowboard, ice skate, toboggan and snowmobile right in our own backyards. We are so fortunate to know the joy and exhilaration of playing in a winter wonderland. To stay in the game and on the slope, we need to do our part to keep active and prevent serious winter sport injuries!

So, where can you start? Get motivated and involved – commit to wearing the gear. Tell us where you’ll be wearing your gear this winter and you could win!

From January 14th to the 28th, we’re running a Facebook contest where you can post your favourite winter activity spots in northern B.C. (photos welcome!) for a chance to win a ski/winter sport helmet! The deadline is 2 p.m. on January 28th, full contest details available on our Facebook Page.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing all sorts of winter sport safety tips and information. Stay up to date by checking out the Northern Health Facebook & Twitter page.

Watch our awesome Gear Up For Winter video to get yourself ready for some safe winter fun.

Want more convincing facts about helmet safety? Check out Parachute Canada’s video below!

Alandra Kirschner

About Alandra Kirschner

Originally from Abbotsford, Alandra moved to northern B.C. in 2012 to pursue schooling to become a Registered Nurse. A 4th year UNBC student (BS, Nursing), Alandra is passionate about her field, especially acute care and mental health/addictions. In her free time, you’ll find her practicing yoga, watching movies, camping, and travelling.


Heads up! Prevention and management of concussions

Man wearing a helmet and safety vest while holding a bicycle.

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month, which is a great time to learn more about concussions. Wearing protective gear, including a helmet, is one of the most important things you can do to prevent concussions.

Running, jumping, climbing, tumbling and participating in sports are excellent ways for children and youth to exercise, meet new friends and learn life lessons. But along with the benefits of physical activity, there are associated risks, like the risk for concussions.

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month, which is a great chance to learn more about concussions.

Concussions are caused by a direct blow to the head or other body part resulting in a rotational movement of the brain within the skull.

How can you prevent concussions?

  • Wear protective gear, including a helmet, for sports and recreation.
  • Buckle your seatbelt.
  • Make your home safe. Keep your home well-lit and your floors free of clutter. To reduce the risk of injury to children, use edge and corner guards on furniture, block off stairways and install window guards.
  • Wear appropriate shoes.
  • Ensure a safe playground. Choose a well-maintained playground for your child with a ground surface made of shock-absorbing material like mulch or sand.

Evidence suggests that children and youth are at the greatest risk of having a concussion. They also take longer to recover. Concussions can permanently change the way a child or youth talks, walks, learns, works and interacts with others.

So how do we encourage our children to stay active, grow, develop and play while minimizing these risks?

It’s important for parents, coaches, educators and players to understand how to prevent, recognize and manage concussions. Having the resources and tools to do so is the first step in minimizing the risk to our children.

The British Columbia Injury Research and Prevention Unit has developed a free online training tool on the recognition, management and prevention of concussions. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) supports parents, coaches, players and educators to take the necessary steps to prevent long-term consequences of concussions and to understand the effects and treatment should such an injury occur.

Visit for up to date concussion education training and to complete a free course! A toolkit designed specifically for educators is coming soon!

Shellie O'Brien

About Shellie O'Brien

Shellie is an injury prevention coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team with a passion for health and wellness. She enjoys the outdoors, animals, recreational dogsledding, reading, and healthy living. When not at work, she can be found on her rural property with her family of happy, healthy huskies.


From snowboard to toboggan – have fun, protect your noggin!

Two snowboarders with helmets and goggles

From spring skiing to slippery sidewalks, just because the snow is melting and the weather is warming doesn’t mean we should stop thinking about slips, falls, and concussion risks!

From snowboarding to skating, biathlon to snowmobiling, cross-country skiing to snowshoeing, or curling to tobogganing – you name the winter sport and we got it! Being active and participating in sports and outdoor activities during winter is a fantastic way to stay healthy and happy. Whether you are a weekend enthusiast or you’ve been inspired by the Canada Winter Games athletes to try out a new sport, learn how to keep winter play fun, safe and injury-free.

Concussions have often been dismissed as “getting your bell rung,” a time to just shake it off and get back at it! However, in reality, a concussion is a brain injury that can cause a number of symptoms affecting the way you think or act. A repeat concussion that occurs while your brain is still healing from a previous concussion can cause long-term problems that may change your life forever.

How a concussion is handled in the minutes, hours and days following the injury can significantly influence the extent of damage and recovery time. Protect yourself and your loved ones:

Learn how to recognize a concussion

  • Any force that causes the brain to move around in the skull can cause a concussion.
  • Signs of a concussion may not appear immediately.
  • Most concussions do not include a loss of consciousness.
  • When in doubt, sit out! Take the time your brain needs to heal.

Know what to do if you suspect a concussion

  • Assess the individual for any visible cues, signs or symptoms like imbalance, memory loss, and changes in the way they appear to be thinking, feeling or acting.
  • Get medical help – any possible concussion should be evaluated by a medical professional.

Know how to manage a concussion

  • Rest is the best way to recover from a concussion – both physical and mental.
  • Follow the guidelines for Return to Learn and Return to Play to help achieve full recovery (available at

Spread the word!

  • Injuries are preventable. Tell others to help build awareness and understanding about preventing and managing concussion where you live, work, learn and play. Together we can make northern B.C. injury-free.

Visit for up-to-date and free concussion information, training and resources for parents, players, coaches, medical professionals and educators.

This article was first published in A Healthier You, a joint publication of Northern Health and the Prince George Citizen.

Shellie O'Brien

About Shellie O'Brien

Shellie is an injury prevention coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team with a passion for health and wellness. She enjoys the outdoors, animals, recreational dogsledding, reading, and healthy living. When not at work, she can be found on her rural property with her family of happy, healthy huskies.


Heads up! Concussions matter!

Parent and child wearing helmets on a ski hill.

Concussions matter! From February 24 – March 1, take the free online training at to better understand concussion prevention and management and for your chance to win a $50 gift card.

Sidney Crosby, Natasha Richardson, the National Football League, Hockey Canada. They all conjure up stories of individual struggles and organizational responses to concussions. With the Canada Winter Games entering their second week in Prince George and northern B.C., we wanted to make the most of the light shining on sports and athletes to talk about concussion awareness and education for all, not just extreme sport athletes.

The Canada Winter Games are here for two weeks, but concussions happen in our communities every day! The question is: how big of an issue are concussions in the north? Injury stats on concussion are rather difficult to gather as historically, concussions have been a very under-reported injury or they’ve been recorded under a number of different categories. What we do know is that:

  • In 2010, $2.4 million was spent on hospitalizations for concussion in B.C.
  • Northern Health has the highest rate of hospitalization for brain injury, other head injury, and concussions of all the health regions in B.C.
  • 1 in 5 youth in northern B.C. reported experiencing a concussion in the past year; many also report not seeking medical help to diagnose, treat and manage their concussion to a full recovery.
  • Up to 60% of all concussion visits were males.
  • 40% of concussion cases seen in emergency departments are for children ages 0-19, with the highest rate for boys 10-14 years old. Most of these cases came from a sport-related injury.

In response to this injury burden, and with the opportunity to create a health legacy from the Canada Winter Games, we’ve created Concussions matter! This concussion awareness, management and prevention campaign was designed to reach Northern Health staff and communities across the north as a health legacy to Canada Winter Games. The campaign has received generous support from the Concussion Awareness Training Tool and, allowing us to use and co-brand some great tools to promote and distribute across the region.

From February 24th to March 1st, we’ll be sharing a lot of concussion information and links to the CATT online training course here, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Take the free online CATT training and comment “I completed the CATT” on the Northern Health Facebook page and you can be entered to win a $50 gift card! Please help us spread the word about concussion awareness and the tools to support the management and prevention!

Concussions matter! Learn more about concussion management and prevention at

Contest rules:

  1. Only residents living in the Northern Health region can qualify to win (but we encourage everyone to take the free CATT online training course!). Not sure if you are in our region? View the map.
  2. The contesting and prizing is administered by Northern Health. Facebook is in no way responsible for contesting or prizing.
  3. Participants are entered by taking the free online CATT course and commenting “I completed the CATT” below the Facebook post relating to the contest on the Northern Health Facebook Page.
  4. No maximum entries per person. A maximum of one entry is earned by completing the CATT and commenting appropriately. Extra entries can be earned by tagging a friend.
  5. Comments deemed abusive, offensive or derogatory will be automatically disqualified.
  6. One prize will be given away. A gift card valued at $50 will be awarded.
  7. Winner will be contacted via email or social media platform.
  8. Gift card will be awarded by random draw.
  9. Gift card to be used to encourage healthy living. To ensure it is, Regional Injury Prevention Coordinators will work with the winners to determine what the gift card will be for.
  10. Northern Health reserves final approval of winning entry and gift card.
  11. Contestants under the age of 18 must have parent or guardian permission to enter.
  12. Announced prize winner is final.
  13. Entering the contest does not guarantee that you will win a prize.
  14. Northern Health employees are eligible to enter the contest and win, but will not be granted preferential treatment.
  15. Northern Health has 60 days from the time the contest closes (March 1, 2015, 11:59PM PST) to issue prize.
Shellie O'Brien

About Shellie O'Brien

Shellie is an injury prevention coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team with a passion for health and wellness. She enjoys the outdoors, animals, recreational dogsledding, reading, and healthy living. When not at work, she can be found on her rural property with her family of happy, healthy huskies.


Canada Winter Games: An opportunity for health legacy

Northern Health staff with mascot at 2015 Canada Winter Games venue

The Northern Health team has been visiting 2015 Canada Winter Games venues to share healthy living information with residents and visitors. From concussion awareness to knowledge of physical activity guidelines, the health legacy of the Games will have a positive impact for years to come!

The 2015 Canada Winter Games are in full swing in Prince George and it has truly been an exciting time for the region. Talk of the Games legacy often focuses on sport promotion, physical facilities, cultural showcase, and economic impact. For Northern Health, however, we’ve spent time leading up to the Games looking at our health legacy. What could we offer our populations before, during, and after the Games? How will Northern Health leverage the excitement of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enhance the health and wellness of northern B.C.?

  • IMAGINE: Legacy Grants: In the spirit of the 2015 Canada Winter Games, the IMAGINE grants placed special attention on projects that promote increased physical activity. Grants were awarded to 89 amazing community-based projects in 34 northern communities, totalling $279,870 for health promotion!
  • Smoke-Free Games Proclamation: Northern Health partnered with the 2015 Canada Winter Games, the City of Prince George and Promotion of Wellness in Northern BC to create and support a policy for safe, smoke-free environments for all athletes and spectators taking in the Games. Our goal is to continue these efforts with Prince George and other municipalities to enhance smoke-free bylaws for our northern populations.
  • Northern Safe Sport Tour: With provincial partners, we delivered 15 sport injury prevention and concussion management workshops to coaches, teachers, and parents throughout northern B.C. from June to December 2014. We also rolled out Concussions Matter, a campaign to further create awareness around concussions for medical professionals and community members.
  • Community Health Stars: The first three community health stars helped to launch this new program and were awarded torchbearer spots in the Canada Winter Games torch relay. This program will continue to shine a light on individuals who make tremendous differences in the health of their communities.
  • Growing for Gold: An early start with breastfeeding can contribute to our children “growing for gold!” This legacy program provides decals for businesses and facilities that commit to welcoming and supporting breastfeeding mothers and families. Look for these decals in your community!
Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.


The long-term toll of concussions

Andrea downhill skiing

Andrea Cochrane competes in downhill skiing – an activity that would result in several concussions and long-term health effects.

After learning about the Falls Across The Ages contest and concussion prevention week, I couldn’t help but think of my friend Laurie Cochrane, a fellow nurse, audiology technician, and retired Northern Health employee after 38 years of service.

Last year, Laurie shared with me her powerful and tragic story of how she lost her beautiful and athletic daughter, Andrea Cochrane. In her teens, Andrea was a downhill ski racer who suffered three concussions in eight months and two more as an adult during her working year as a geophysicist. Although a diagnosis of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) could not be confirmed due to the poor integrity of the brain tissue received for research, Laurie had no doubt that her daughter’s concussions had altered her brain over time and led to symptoms resulting in the very sad and untimely death of her daughter in 2011.

Laurie’s story had a profound impact on me and I’ve learned a lot from her about the importance of taking sports falls and concussions very seriously. Laurie is a remarkable and passionate woman and I thank her for finding the strength to share her story and knowledge with me. Laurie was kind enough to answer some questions regarding concussion awareness.

What message do you have for people dealing with concussion injuries or for parents of children with concussion injuries?

The single most important thing I would like to convey about concussion injuries to parents, the person suffering the concussion, coaches, medical caregivers – everyone – is that concussions MUST be taken seriously. We know so much more now than we did even five years ago and it is vital that we inform ourselves and others about the potential for long-term effects of concussions. It is important to know that the term “concussion” does not mean what it used to mean to us years ago, when it was thought the effects were short-term and returning to the activity soon after was not a problem.  This is simply no longer the case and returning too soon creates the very real probability of another head injury. I wish with all my heart that we knew then (when my daughter suffered her concussions ski racing) what we know now. She may still be alive today.

What does “just a bump on the head” mean to you today?

 The statement “just a bump on the head” has such a different meaning to me now than it did even only a few years ago.  The knowledge that has been gained by dedicated research around the area of concussion tells us that you don’t even have to show signs of concussion to have suffered one! That is really something we need to pay attention to and use it as a huge red flag in our growing awareness around head injuries.

Is there anything else you would like to share with people about concussion prevention awareness?

Like most things, the more you inform yourself, the better you can protect and take care of yourself. If you are an athlete, be smart about concussions. As a parent or a coach, learn about the implications of concussions and the potential seriousness. Concussions affect the brain inside our skull – you can’t see the injury so obviously! Pay attention to head injuries as it could allow you to be active for many years to come, and indeed, even save your life.

To learn more about Andrea, please visit the Sports Legacy Institute.

For more information on concussion awareness and prevention, visit Northern Health’s concussion awareness and prevention page.


Sarah Brown

About Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown was born in Zambia, Africa and has lived and worked in many small rural communities across Canada. Prince George has been home for the past 20 years with her husband, two children, cat and dog. Sarah is a graduate of UNBC and a Public Health Nurse Practice Development Leader. She has many interests in the field of preventive public health. Sarah love’s being outdoors (even in the snow!) and is often out hiking, appreciating the beautiful trees, birds and blue skies of the north. Sarah is passionate about learning, reading, gardening & watercolor painting!