All in a Day’s Work
How quick action by a MedSport athletic trainer made the difference for an injured high school athlete.
Any Belleville High School student athlete or coach will tell you: Ashley’s always there.
Ashley Snyder, AT, ATC®, is one of more than 40 certified athletic trainers (ATC®s) affiliated with Michigan Medicine’s MedSport Athletic Trainer Outreach Program.
For more than 30 years, the program has assigned athletic trainers to the athletic programs of local schools. “Currently, our athletic trainers are placed in 14 area schools and six specialty sport programs within the surrounding community,” says Mike Maciejewski, MS, AT, ATC®, who directs the program. “We consider our team of licensed athletic trainers as one of the pillars of our success,” Maciejewski says, “and are an extension of our medical-athletic rehabilitation clinic into the communities we serve.”
“Among their many responsibilities, MedSport athletic trainers, like Ashley, act as first responders to treat acute injuries, and serve as the first Michigan Medicine contacts for any health concern an athlete might experience,” he continues. “From a sprained ankle or sore shoulder, to a potential head or spine injury, our athletic trainers are capable of handling the full range of injuries and illnesses they might encounter on a daily basis.”
For more than seven of her nearly eight years with MedSport, Snyder has been embedded at Belleville High School.
“I’m a fixture at practices and home games for every sport; me and my bag of supplies,” Snyder says. Her responsibilities include checking equipment, applying taping and wrap-on braces, and closely monitoring the action on the field.
“I’m also the one reminding the kids to drink water and eat,” she adds. “It’s like I’m also the unofficial ‘team mom’ for every sport.”
In sports, everything can change in a moment. That anticipation is one of the things people love about playing – and watching – sports. In seconds, an outstanding performance or great play can turn the tide of a competition. But the opposite is equally true. It also takes just an instant for an injury to happen.
That was the case at a Belleville High School varsity football practice in the fall of 2019.
“It was at the start of the season,” recalls Snyder, “maybe the third or fourth of the team’s first two-a-day practices. The focus was on drills, with little or no hitting yet. And it was right at the end of the practice – with less than five minutes left.”
A defensive tackle, Floyd Zweng, was taking part in a blocking drill. Zweng, a five-foot-eight-inch, 220-pound junior, turned while attempting a block. He missed his intended target and ended up in the path of a lineman, who tripped and fell into Zweng while he was turned sideways.
Snyder was watching the drill and saw Zweng go down.
“If he had been flailing around, that would have been a good sign,” she says. “But he just laid there screaming. That was very unusual for Floyd, who is a very tough kid.”
Snyder ran to him and tried to both assess his injury and calm him down. “He was lying in a strange, figure-four position,” she continues. “That’s very unusual for a hip dislocation; it would normally be rotated inward.”
She manually checked the hip area, but could feel no evidence of a deformity or fracture. “That was an encouraging sign, but clearly, something was wrong. He was complaining of extreme pain.”
Snyder’s training prepared her to act quickly and decisively. She made two phone calls. First to 9-1-1 for emergency assistance, then to Maciejewski at MedSport. She then advised the coach to unlock the gates of the field for the ambulance, all the while talking to Zweng about his pain level and trying to keep him still. “Even taking a deep breath was painful for him,” she remembers.
“Ashley’s call set in motion the process of connecting the Michigan Medicine resources needed to address Floyd’s injury,” explains Maciejewski. “Her detailed recall of what she witnessed on the field and her description of the injury helped us to mobilize the right team, including our MedSport Orthopaedics experts, so we were ready to receive him at Mott (C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital).”
First dispatched to the scene were four members of the Belleville Fire Department, including Captain Chris Zweng, Floyd’s father. Also one of the school’s lacrosse coaches, Zweng is familiar face in Belleville High School athletics, and a colleague and friend of Snyder’s.
“I knew Floyd was at practice, but when we got the call about a football injury at the high school, I had no idea it was him,” he said. As a first responder, Zweng is skilled at keeping his cool, which came in handy as he helped Snyder manage his son’s severe pain.
The ambulance arrived with a stretcher and the team was able to flip Zweng onto his back while keeping the hip immobilized. Intravenous pain medications were started. “I would probably have passed out from pain,” admits Snyder, “but Floyd was still talking.” Zweng even made a funny comment, then wondered aloud how he could be laughing while in so much pain.
“Ashley is such a pro,” says Zweng. “She really gets to know every kid playing every sport. Because of those relationships, she’s able to interact with them when something happens, letting them know what’s going on and keeping them calm. That’s a huge benefit to us, speaking as both a first responder and a parent.”
Snyder rode in the ambulance with Zweng to Mott. “He had never been in an ambulance before, and understandably, he was scared. I asked to ride along so he wouldn’t be alone.” On the way, Snyder again phoned Maciejewski with an update.
On site at Mott with his parents on hand, x-rays were taken of Zweng’s hip, and it was determined that Zweng had suffered an anterior dislocation. Once he was sedated to control pain and relax the muscles in the injured area, several doctors and nurses collaborated to pull Zweng’s hip back into place. Follow up x-rays confirmed that there were no fractures or obstructions to blood flow.
Thanks to a keen eye, quick action and the right team, Floyd Zweng received the care he needed. His overall recovery, while slow, progressed smoothly. He didn’t play for the rest of the season, and continued to recover over the summer. Floyd Zweng started practices for this season, but did not return after the program was temporarily suspended for the COVID-19 shutdown.
Although he’s not playing football, the family reports that Floyd is very active and nearly back to full strength.
“The best part of this job is making a difference in these kids’ lives,” says Snyder. “Sometimes it’s dramatic – like helping Floyd go from face down on the field to returning to his regular, active life – but more often it’s about just letting them know I’m here for them, and they can talk to me.”