The unexpected consequences of minor head trauma

The 45-year old actress arrived at the resort on a Sunday, and hired an instructor on Monday for a private ski lesson. According to Mont Tremblant spokesperson Catherine Lacasse, she was not wearing a helmet. Richardson fell onto slushy snow, and did not collide with anything or suffer any signs of cuts or injuries. She picked herself up almost immediately and was not placed on a stretcher. The staff followed strict procedures, bringing her down to the bottom of the slope and back to her hotel, insisting that she should see a doctor. Richardson maintained she was okay. “She was joking and laughing,” Lacasse said.

About an hour after the incident, complaining of a headache, Richardson was brought to the Centre Hospitalier Laurentien in Ste-Agathe, and transferred to the intensive care unit of Hôpital du Sacre-Coeur in Montreal. She spent fewer than 24 hours there before being flown to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, during which TMZ reported her to be unconscious. Brain-dead by Tuesday night, she was taken off of life support the next day.

According to the New York City medical examiner’s office, Natasha Richardson died from an epidural hematoma, a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that is commonly caused by a blow to the head. It occurs when blood builds up between the skull and the tough, leathery outer membrane of the brain, called the dura mater. Even in absence of a visible external injury, force from a blunt impact to the head makes the brain bounce within its cavity, causing surrounding blood vessels to tear. The resulting blood clotting between the dura mater and the skull reduces the space normally occupied by the brain, which is compressed from the gradual increase in pressure. This explains why Richardson initially seemed fine, but the effects of the impact escalated within such short duration.

Had she agreed to see a doctor immediately after the incident, it would have increased her probability of survival. One week after Richardson’s death, a seven-year old Ohio girl’s life was spared when, after being hit in the head with a baseball, her parents recognized Richardson’s symptoms, and sent their daughter into the operating room in time to save her life.

At least two million head injuries occur in the United States every year, and about 500,000 of these are serious enough for the emergency room. A hit to the head is no laughing matter.

Budget funds fall short of expectations

Ontario will give Ontario colleges and universities $780 million in capital funding over the next two years, the province announced in its budget last week. The money will pay for infrastructure costs, including updating older facilities and building new ones.

The government has also promised a one-time $150-million cash relief injection to help postsecondary schools cope with immediate financial strains resulting from the recession.

Despite the capital funding, U of T still faces significant operational expenses, said university spokesperson Rob Steiner. The costs include supporting research, and updating and expanding campus facilities.

“[The $780 million commitment] is not the kind of funding that helps operate the university any better, but it gives us a better physical plan in which to do it,” said Steiner. “We’re going to have to make sure that over time we also have the support to actually operate those facilities we’re building now”

Dave Scrivener, U of T Students Union VP external, said the payouts aren’t nearly enough to make a significant difference. “To put the $150 million in perspective: the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T has a $48 million deficit, it alone would need one-third of the money to bring it even,” said Scrivener. “Spread this $150 million over 17 universities and 24 colleges, and it’s far too little spread over a large area.” “The current financial situation U of T finds itself in comes out of structural problems, where public universities are forced to rely on the stock market over public investment,” added Srivener.

The 2009 budget has also committed $35 million for medical infrastructure and will create 100 medical school spaces across the province. Another $10 million will be used to expand graduate fellowships.

With government resources stretched, U of T is looking at increasing tuition. Steiner said an increase would likely be in the single digits, and that a significant amount of the revenue from a tuition increase would go back into student aid.

The budget has been criticized for failing to address student debt and financial assistance.

“This is by far the greatest down fall of the budget; that there are no tangible benefits to helping students financially,” said Scrivener. “It’s all focused towards institutions.”

“Ontario students have the fastest rising tuition fees, rising ancillary fees and are facing major enrollment pressures. We’ll need a balance of institutional funding and grants, as well as grants and tuition relief going directly to students, to effectively weather the recession.”

Fringe Science: The near death experience

You remember being knocked off your bike by an oncoming bus, but wonder why you are looking at the crash scene from atop a neighboring building. You notice your body lying motionless as paramedics’ race to your side. Your surroundings dim as the brightness of the sun begins to envelope your entire being and a sense of peace and oneness ensues, when suddenly pain washes over your body. A paramedic explains to you that you had been clinically dead for over five minutes. You have just had a near death experience.

While this event may sound spooky, research suggests that as many as 10 per cent of cardiac arrest survivors report similar experiences.

The controversy arises when an individual claims such an incident “proves” the existence of an after life, or that consciousness can exist irrespective of the body. By suggesting such things, one challenges the empirically well-founded assumption that the mind requires the brain to exist.

For the past few decades, the conventional scientific explanation for near-death experiences has proposed that when individuals approach the moment of death, their brain starts to malfunction, causing hallucination-like experiences via the abnormal release of various neurochemicals. Recently, some researchers have called into question the validity of the “hallucination” hypothesis.

In 2001, Dr. Sam Parnia and Peter Fenwick from the Southampton General Hospital in the UK conducted a large-scale review of literature on near death experiences. Published in the medical journal Resuscitation, their article argued, via the invocation of physiology research, that it is unlikely that biologically-mediated hallucinations occur following clinical death. Their research states that following cessation of the heartbeat, the brain ceases to function within around 10 seconds. This has been measured in various studies involving animals and humans.

Without brain function, the cascade of neurochemicals hypothesized to be released could not translate into near death experiences, as the brain cannot mediate experiences under such deteriorated conditions. Nevertheless, near-death experiences are recalled by patients as occurring over the time period in which they are clinically dead. Furthermore, Drs. Parnia and Fenwick noted anecdotal stories in which patients perceived themselves as floating above their clinically dead bodies in the emergency room, and upon being revived, were able to remember specific details of the time in which they were “dead.” During an interview for Skeptiko in 2008, Dr. Fenwick noted a case in which an individual was in cardiac arrest and had an EEG connected to his head that showed no brain activity. Upon being revived, the individual accurately recalled and verified specific details of the procedure, claiming he saw the whole thing from the ceiling above. As such near-death experiences are noted for both their clarity and cohesiveness, questions remain as to why individuals with no brain activity are still capable of perception and cognition.

At first glance, these anecdotal stories, in conjunction with the physiological research suggest the mind or “soul” may be capable of existing irrespective of the brain. But studies into near-death experiences have limitations. For example, numerous after-the-fact anecdotal stories cannot be substituted for true science and well-structured experiments. To claim that a clinically dead individual maintains existence outside of their body, one would need a way to verify this is not a near-death illusion.

In 2008, a new five-year large-scale study was initiated, involving 25 hospitals worldwide, and 1500 patients. The participating hospitals place images and objects only viewable from a top-down ceiling perspective, to see if clinically dead individuals are actually separating from their bodies and floating to the ceiling. They would be expected to see these images, and be able to report them if revived. As the results of this study will not be published until 2013, answers to the question of the existence of the soul and the after life will need to wait.

$1.3 billion down the tubes

The University of Toronto’s aggressive investment policies have come under fire after its $5.5-billion endowment and pension fund posted a 30 per cent shrinkage for 2008.

The university announced a $1.3-billion loss on its assets on Tuesday—a 29.5 per cent drop in pension funds and 29.4 per cent in endowments. The losses are worse than the average 18 per cent decline in large pension funds, reported the Globe and Mail.

U of T Asset Management Corporation, an independent subsidiary in charge of the university’s assets, says that it expects to stick with current risk management practices.

“A major change in strategy right now would be like locking the barn door after the horses have gone,” said U of T’s VP business affairs Catherine Riggall. “The University is a very long-term investor and we expect that there will be periods when markets are down. Over the five year period 2003-2007 the compound average result was 11.5 per cent—well above our target return of 4 per cent plus inflation.”

“Unfortunately, the severity of the one-year results completely eliminated the strong out-performance that had been achieved over the previous five years,” said a communication from the university.

This isn’t the first time U of T’s stocks have taken a hit since UTAM was established in 2000, bringing in a similar investment model to major U.S. schools like Princeton and Harvard. In 2002, the assets plunged by $320 million. At the time, UTAM cited the downtown in global equity markets.

“The UTAM board has discussed the various views on the benefits and downsides of currency hedging and has recently moved back to a 50-per-cent hedged policy,” Riggall said. Though this represents a return to slightly more conservative investment policies, she said it is likely that previous positions will return as risk becomes more manageable.

Endowment payouts, previously expected to contribute $62 million next year to scholarships, aid, bursaries, and endowed programs, have already been slashed. Commenting on whether the endowment losses would have a major effect on students, Riggall said, “Income from the endowment is a very small percentage of the total revenue of the university. The commitments to access and student aid remain in place and will be met.”

Marlie and me

He played four years with the Ontario Hockey League’s St. Michael’s Majors and failed to catch the attention of NHL scouts. Like many others who had followed the same road, Darryl Boyce was left with two choices. He could choose hockey, and play in the low minor professional ranks that dot the southern United States, or he could choose an education, and put himself through the rigours of post-secondary school in Canada.

Like so many other young hockey hopefuls in Canada, Boyce dreamt of the opportunity to get drafted and play in the NHL. Boyce sacrificed the comforts of his small hometown life in Summerside, PEI to achieve it. He was drafted by the Majors in the OHL Amateur Draft, and at the age of 16, moved to Toronto to compete at the highest level of Canadian Junior hockey in the hope that someone would notice him.

“It’s a shock,” said Boyce with a smile, remembering his first experience in the city. “All my friends were telling me that people get shot all the time, and it’s a huge city, and that I’ll never survive. It was overwhelming on my first day.”

While Boyce would eventually get used to life in the city, it was not without its moments. “My roommate left me at the rink one day, and I never knew how the bus or transit system worked,” recalled Boyce with a sheepish grin. “So instead of jumping on a bus or asking for any directions I walked probably over ten kilometres home. I knew how he drove home, so I just walked the route home.”

Boyce sacrificed a normal life to play hockey. But the scouts never noticed and the draft never came. His unspectacular numbers failed to draw eyes, and his quiet, hard-working mentality went unnoticed. He had slipped through the cracks of Junior hockey, and it seemed that his dream was drifting away.

Hockey was important to Boyce, but so was his education. “It’s a big thing with my family. My mom and my dad don’t come from educational backgrounds, and they really push for me and my sister to get post-secondary education.”

Fortunately for Boyce, the Majors offers a package to its players that stresses the importance of completing one’s education, operating in affiliation with the University of Toronto St. Michael’s College School. “It was a great honour for me to attend that school while I was here,” said Boyce. “U of T’s academics were phenomenal and they pushed education the whole way. They preached to us that academics were first. So if you needed to miss practice or a little bit of a practice you made sure that your schooling got done and that hockey came second.”

In the end, Boyce would forgo professional hockey for the life of a student-athlete competing in Canadian Interuniversity Sports. Widely perceived as the proverbial dumping grounds for players who aren’t able to be professionals, it is one of the most under-scouted league in North America. An assumed lack of quality competition compared to that of Major Juniors has led to limited interest and very little attention from both hockey fans and the media.

Nonetheless, hockey remained an integral part of Boyce’s choice of schools. “I wanted to get into a good hockey program, a winning organization,” said Boyce of his decision to go to the University of New Brunswick. “They had both. They had great organized sports teams and they had great academics. I got the best of both worlds at UNB. It was great.”

Boyce credited his smooth transition to university life and work to his experience at St. Michael’s College School. “St. Mike’s was a great preparation for going to university. The workload at St. Mike’s was overwhelming at times. [At] University, you only take so many courses a day, and they’re spread out over the week. It really prepared me for what was to go on in university and I handled it quite well.”

On the ice at UNB, Boyce blossomed, hitting an age of critical development as a hockey player that saw his size, speed, and strength improve dramatically. This sudden growth finally drew the eyes and ears of hockey scouts as he was named the Atlantic University Sport and CIS rookie of the year, leading the UNB Varsity Reds to a 15-8-1 record.

He credited his Varsity Reds coach for his sudden growth. “Not too many people know that but me and my coach had it out [in my first year],” grinned Boyce. “One of the first games I got benched. We made our bus trip home to New Brunswick and I marched right back into his office and we had it out as to why I didn’t play. From then on in, we were pretty much straight shooters with each other and he gave me the ice time when I deserved and when I earned it.”

“I sort of took the bull by the horns and ran with it that season.”

His first season drew interest, even some talk. He used his second season to catapult his career. Boyle put his name on the scouting map with a strong offensive showing that cumulated to a gold medal in Italy, as well as the elusive National Championships in his second year with UNB.

“[The Leafs and I] were in contact after the first year, but there was a lot of opportunity going back to UNB for my second year. We were going to be a contender for the Nationals and we had an All-Star team being picked from the Eastern Conference to go to Italy and represent Canada.”

“And sure enough, it’s just like a fairy-tale story,” laughed Boyce. “I made the Italy team and represented Canada and won a gold medal in Italy. I came back, we made it to Nationals and we ended up winning the National Championships.”

His hard work would earn him an AHL contract with the American Hockey League and Toronto Maple Leaf affiliate Toronto Marlies that summer, an offer that made Boyce choose between school and hockey once again. This time however, he chose hockey, though it wasn’t a decision he took lightly.

“It was a really hard decision because my team the following year they went 26-1-1, went back to the championships. But as they say, ‘Been there, done that’ and you’ve got to move on to future endeavours.”

For now, he is relishing the opportunities that helped move him forward in hockey, but the education that helped get him there hasn’t been discarded. “I just finished a marketing course from UNB here [in February],” said Boyce proudly. “I still pick away with it. More or less I want to do it for [my parents] and then I want to do it for myself. I want to achieve goals and that’s one of them.”

Another goal is to play in the NHL one day. His hard work in the first half of the American League season in 2007-2008 saw him turn his AHL contract into a dream come true; an NHL deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs in December 2007.

“I was fortunate to get the opportunity because not many players out of the CIS get even a chance at the American League level. I knew I had to come in and I had to earn a spot on the American league team, and sure enough my first half of the season was recognized by the management upstairs and they gave me a shot.”

Boyce has already played his first NHL game January 24, 2008, which was unfortunately shortened by an injury during the game. Now he is waiting patiently for his next chance.

“I relished the opportunity and unfortunately I got hurt in that first game. But I’m here and I’m knocking on the door again. I want to say I’m knocking on the door to crack the big club eventually. I’m just going to keep playing my hardest each and every game and hope that I get another chance to move.”

“Burke and Wilson, and all the guys they brought in upstairs. David Nonis and Jeff Jackson and Mike Penny […] I could go on and on. They’re a great bunch of guys and further more than that they know their hockey. Ron Wilson coached a winning team in San Jose for the last six, seven years and Brian Burke won a Stanley Cup two years ago. I think the Leafs are heading in the right direction and people need to understand it is a turnover phase and guys are trying their hardest.”

Boyle’s willing to wait, he’s already beaten the odds. He’s a former CIS player with an NHL contract and a chance to live the dream again.

“You’re going to achieve your dreams if you work hard enough and I’m living proof of it.”

Who’s cashing in?

Ontario’s top-paid university employee is from U of T, and he’s not a professor.

John Lyon made $557,474.36 in salaries and benefits last year, as managing director of private markets and co-chief investment officer at the U of T Asset Management Corporation.

Lyon has come under fire for his high pay after UTAM-managed investments lost $1.3 billion in 2008, where pension and endowment funds lost a third of their value. Endowments are used to fund scholarships, grants, and bursaries.

“UTAM compensation levels are set in relation to investment industry standards, since that is where our staff are drawn from,” wrote Lyon in an email to The Varsity. “My compensation in 2008 reflected performance results for 2007 and prior years, when UTAM outperformed. My 2009 compensation will reflect the 2008 results.”

Lyon also noted that he received extra compensation last year for his additional role as interim CEO.

Lyon’s earnings are followed by five presidents: McMaster, Waterloo, York, Guelph, and U of T’s David Naylor.

The information was released March 31 as part of the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act of 1996, under which the salary and tax benefits of all Ontario university employees upwards of $100,000 must be disclosed and published for the public.

Last year, Naylor and then-vice-provost Cheryl Misak encouraged U of T staff to lower their salaries and expenses.

Online analysts have been noting which university administrators are taking voluntary pay cuts. They’ve also noted that admins in Alberta make more than their Ontario counterparts, and that professors in business and medical fields dominate the pay scale.

Snow and tell

In order to prevent pushing and overcrowding, The Toronto Transit Commission places stickers on the inside doors of subway cars reading “Be Safe and Considerate.” While fourth-year Varsity Blues basketball player Nick Snow hails from London, Ontario, he lives near the Athletic Centre, and does not face a long commute to home games. For games at nearby Ryerson University, the basketball team doesn’t travel by bus, and instead are given the option of taking the subway. If the team were to ever come across the “Be Safe and Considerate” stickers on the way to a game, they might recognize that this description aptly befits Nick Snow and his approach to the game.

The “safe” part of Snow’s approach has been documented before, but remains extremely compelling. Yet the “considerate” Nick Snow is rarely mentioned in print, but is an absolutely essential part of his character. From the first on-court interview, Snow is extremely personable and generous with his time. A gargantuan 6’7” power forward and centre, Snow is extremely honest, but quite humble, always praising his teammates. From this first interview, it is apparent that Snow is well brought up, and furthermore, his consideration extends beyond his inner circle.

Standing against a wall along with his teammates prior to a playoff game against Queen’s, Snow offers up a friendly gesture of familiarity, and engages in a short chat. Afterwards, Snow wins the MVP of the game trophy. Many athletes are unapproachable before a game, but Snow seems to be motivated by knowing that others are cheering for him.

During a later interview, Snow remains his gracious and considerate self. He sits patiently, answering a barrage of questions, long after he gulps down his hot chocolate. His enthusiasm never lags, and afterwards, he profusely offers his thanks. Snow is clearly focused in his desire to be a well-rounded player. When speaking of his game, Snow stresses the importance of striving to play smart.

“I know how to play basketball,” said Snow. “I know when to shoot, when to pass, when to defend, when I need to score, how to get it, when I need to get a stop defensively, and when I need to foul. Those are the kinds of things that I learn through experience and can’t really be taught”.

Snow is thrilled with his decision to come to the University of Toronto. “[U of T] is a good program, with a great coach, really good players, good people, it’s just a good situation to be in,” he said. “[The team] supports each other so much. A lot of teams would not be able to say that to each other. We communicate very well, [both on and off the court].”

Snow is full of his praise for his coach, Mike Katz. “I talk to my coach a lot about becoming a complete basketball player, rather than just someone that can shoot very well.” Snow is most comfortable when leading by example, inspiring his teammates with his tremendous work ethic.

He works harder than other players, and this is where the “safe” part of his personality comes into play. Snow has autoimmune hepatitis, a rare disease in which his immune system attacks his liver. Snow’s condition led to Stage IV scarring, causing an enlarged spleen. Doctors told Snow that he would never play basketball again, due to the damage that the game would cause to his spleen. But instead of giving up, Snow actually sped up his recovery. He helped to design a custom made spleen protector with the sports medicine clinic at U of T. Snow’s idea was to fashion a rugby ball as the main source of protection. He notices that he moves differently when wearing the device, but incorporates the differences into his game.

While Snow shook off the suggestion that his medical condition has helped him to improve as a player, he emphatically stated that it helped him in another way. “[This experience] has helped enhance who I am as a person,” he reflected. “I used to sort of define myself as a basketball player. Now, I am thankful that I can play basketball, and that I am blessed with this one of a kind spleen protector. But at the same time, [basketball] does not define who I am. It is not a part of me. It is just something I do that I love to do.”

Snow’s easygoing nature permeates his entire basketball experience. Oddly, Snow wears number 13 at home, and number 32 on the road. The reason? Someone lost his number 13 road jersey. As befitting his personality, Snow took this mishap in stride, and ran with it, now wearing both numbers. While basketball may not define Snow as a person, it shows his desire to work hard, and to be safe and considerate. “I am always striving to be a more complete basketball player […] It’s just a matter of improving all the things I need to improve.”

Faux news at it again

A couple of days after four Canadian soldiers lost their lives in the American-led war in Afghanistan, Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, chief of land staff, issued a statement that the Canadian military “will have to explore the possibility of taking a short operational break.”

When Greg Gutfeld, host of an inconspicuous FOX TV show called Red Eye, heard the news, he couldn’t refrain from a few potshots. In a display of uniquely American obnoxiousness and willful ignorance, Mr. Gutfeld, along with a crew of imbeciles including Doug Benson (a comedian whose gags are about as funny as a dentist’s drill) took aim at Canada’s military. They succeeded in exposing the moral deficiency of FOX News’ personnel (as if this were a surprise). “Isn’t this the perfect time to invade this ridiculous country?” asked Gutfeld sarcastically. Benson responded, “I didn’t even know Canada was in the war.” You thought wrong, wise guy. The hopeless mission in Afghanistan has cost the lives of 117 brave soldiers.

While the pair have since apologized—not that an apology means anything from people whose jobs hinge upon their reputation—the incident has brought into question, yet again, the credibility of FOX News. You’d be hardpressed to find a more despicable media network than FOX. Guided by partisanship and sickeningly right wing, FOX has earned its ignominious distinction as the laughing stock of the corporate media. All thanks to media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who profits from FOX’s blatant agenda.

News anchors have developed a technique of baiting their “liberal” guests with questions such as, “Do you love this country?” Of course, any conservative point of view is equated with American patriotism. They consistently make childish, inflammatory remarks about Democrats such as “North Korea loves John Kerry” or “Obama sits on a board with a terrorist” (Bill Ayers). When cornered, they try to weasel their way out through ambiguous expressions like “Some people say…” or a “Everyone know that…” It’s usually unclear who “everyone” is and whether they’re reliable, but FOX personnel have no problem making reference to an imaginary majority.

Consider that just before Bush’s term expired, FOX was all for the tentative $700 billion bailout package. Right after Obama took office and drew up a comprehensive plan, the bailout became a sign of socialism—odd, considering that bailing out private corporations is anything but socialist. Obama was, of course, responsible for wrecking the economy. Back in 1993, when Bill Clinton launched an attack on Somalia, FOX guests vilified Clinton for being hostile. Eight years later, they accused him of not having done enough to fight terrorism. That feeble attack on Clinton was one of many character assassinations carried out by FOX in a manner unbecoming of a news channel whose motto is “Fair and Balanced.”

In the realm of foreign policy, FOX has reached a new low in news reporting. Their modus operandi, according to internal memos leaked by Media Matters for America, has become to toe the neoconservative line as though it were an adjunct of the Republican Party. Consider their attitude towards the Iraq war (which Rupert Murdoch admitted to misleading the public about). FOX, like the Republicans, wanted Americans to think that their troops were out there, killing a lot of terrorists, and winning the war on terror. If you happened to disagree, as actress Janeane Garofalo did, then you hated America and “Saddam must be in love with you,” according to FOX and Friends’ Brian Kilmeade.

It shouldn’t be surprising that FOX News audiences are four times more likely to believe that the U.S. has found links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and three times more likely to believe that WMDs were actually found in Iraq. This is particularly frightening considering that FOX News is actually one of the most popular channels in the United States, holding eight of the 10 most-watched nightly cable news shows with its O’Reilly Factor and Hannity & Colmes coming in first and second, respectively. I would argue that FOX be reprimanded for spreading lies and misinformation, but it’s a lost cause. Corporate media is big business, after all, so we better get used to it.