FEATURE | Posted Sept. 24, 2015

Neurosurgeons on the sidelines

UC Davis Health System provides a rare and special level of care for student football players

Photograph: Drs. Melita Moore and Kia Shahlaie collaborated to enhance head and neck injury evaluations for UC Davis student football players
Melita Moore (left) and Kia Shahlaie collaborated to enhance head and neck injury evaluations for UC Davis student football players.

UC Davis’ first home football game on Sept. 12 featured a newcomer on the sidelines: neurosurgeon Kia Shahlaie.

While it is typical for sports medicine or orthopaedics specialists to be readily available to assess players’ injuries, this is the first season that experts in brain and spine injuries have been part of the on-the-field medical team. UC Davis leads the way in its conference in elevating sideline care to this level, mirroring the current approach of the National Football League.

“Without question, we are pace setters in the nation,” said Melita N. Moore, head team physician and assistant clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery.

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While concussion assessment expertise and procedures were at the standard level of care, Moore decided to take another vital step in advancing her head-and-neck evaluation program. She asked Shahlaie to organize a dedicated group from the UC Davis Department of Neurological Surgery to volunteer to be present at home football games and assess players suspected of sustaining major head or spine trauma. Neurosurgeon Syed Azeem will be at the next home game on Oct. 3.

“The goal is to make sure we do everything possible as quickly as possible to treat head and neck injuries and optimize recovery outcomes for student-athletes,” said Shahlaie, a specialist in surgical treatments for acute and chronic brain injury.

The new collaboration expands UC Davis Intercollegiate Athletics’ partnerships with UC Davis Health System, which include orthopaedic surgery, physical medicine and rehabilitation, sports medicine and musculoskeletal radiology. In addition, Cassandra Lee, head team orthopaedic surgeon and a specialist in shoulder and knee injuries and cartilage restoration, is always on the sidelines.

“We are continuously exploring opportunities to elevate the care of our student-athletes and be fully prepared for those rare instances when catastrophic injuries occur, and we could not do it without having this extra special level of care with us on the sideline,” Moore said.