COLORADO — For an athlete who's playing in professional or amateur sports, a brain injury or concussion can happen at any time, and it's so important to take time to recover. Recently, an Olympian snowboarder from Colorado founded an organization to learn more about the brain after injury so athletes can get back to their sport.
The name of the organization is Happy Healthy Brain Foundation. Jake Pates founded the non-profit after he got a concussion in 2019 while competing at a snowboarding event in California. A year prior to that snowboarding season, he had competed in the Pyeongchang Olympic games.
But when the injury happened, he went to see a doctor.
"I basically lied to them and told them I was fine so I could get back out and not miss training and not miss the event. So when I did go back out, I was just all over the place with symptoms. headache, dissiness, nausea, all the above. At the time, I never understood the impact that serious brain injuries could become," said Pates.
Pates felt it wasn't safe to return to the slopes just yet, so he went back to Colorado. Prior to his head injury, he got a brain scan with a Denver-based company called Wavy Medical. The company uses a portable EEG on people, and those who use it, get a report of their brain within minutes.
"We just simply measure the brain's activity, and we give your brain a little task, and we measure how fast the brain responds to a task, and how strongly your brain responds to that task," said Dr. Oakley, co-founder and CEO of the organization.
Dr. Oakley said the company is taking simple headgear technology made out of Crocs-like material and making it accessible to all athletes. It's a medical device that is FDA-cleared and is used by a physician, doctor, trainer or athletic director to diagnose someone.
Data taken from the brain scan is used to measure brain function. In Pates' case, it measured the severity of his brain injury and the healing process after.
"I ended up being able to watch my brain heal. I did four scans over the course of 16 days. To watch it go from healthy to concussed to a little bit better to better than baseline. This gave me the confidence to go out and snowboard again," said Pates. "At the end of the process, I realized this is something the sport needs."
He said his journey back to recovery after his injury led him to starting the organization to help others who've also suffered from brain injuries. He founded the Happy Healthy Brain Foundation in March 2020. The non-profit's goal is to raise awareness about brain injuries and advance brain health for athletes through baseline brain scans.
"If you don't treat your brain injury correctly, you can develop all these issues and it really can have an impact on mental health and brain health too," said Pates, who said starting the organization is his way of giving back to his sport and his community.
Pates and Dr. Oakley also said, you can't understand the health of your brain without measuring it first.
"The more data we have, the more we can track people and help them optimize their brain function," said Dr. Oakley.
The foundation wants to encourage all athletes to get a baseline scan to avoid even more injury. They hope this is a way of the future for professional and amateur athletes.
"Jake is passionate about kids. His goal is to baseline as many athletes as he can, and then track them and make sure they stay healthy," said Dr. Oakley.
"I want to make sure there's a preventive measure in place to make sure these kids coming up in the sport don't get head injuries and having prolonged issues," said Pates, who believes this technology will play a big role in the future of sports.
Pates also said he's working with large institutions to get the word out about his organization and how baseline brain scans can help even more athletes in the future.
For more information about Happy Healthy Brain Foundation, click here.