Special Olympics British Columbia British Columbia

Valuable and inspiring experiences with Healthy Athletes

19 February 2014

For one Special Olympics BC – Coquitlam athlete, SOBC’s Healthy Athletes Screening Day in Vancouver on February 15 was fun and full of helpful advice.

It also uncovered a serious tooth problem that may otherwise have gone undetected but for the Special Smiles dental clinic. The screening also gave her a referral to help get followup treatment.

“The Special Olympics athlete actually had a tooth that had decayed and broken off and all that was left was a retained root tip,” said Carol Yakiwchuk, B.C. Clinical Director for Special Smiles. The athlete was in danger of getting a serious infection. “Those root tips actually have to be extracted.”

This is just the sort of health issue that practitioners working with Healthy Athletes hope to catch. The daylong event held at Vancouver’s Notre Dame Regional Secondary School offered clinical examinations and health information in Special Smiles, Opening Eyes, Healthy Hearing, Health Promotion, and, for the first time in Vancouver, a physiotherapy component called FUNfitness.

The free screenings attracted 73 Special Olympics athletes and newcomers, and had the support of 117 volunteers throughout the day.

Medical and nursing students from the University of British Columbia, dental hygiene students from Vancouver Community College, and students from Douglas College’s Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching program enthusiastically came out for the chance to work with athletes in the community alongside practitioners. UBC Kinesiology and Occupational Therapy students also jumped on board to staff FUNFitness.

A core of health-care professionals, such as Yakiwchuk, gave freely of their time for the event.

Healthy Athletes screenings address issues that can often get overlooked in people with intellectual disabilities, who may have trouble realizing or expressing their health concerns.

“She wasn’t a person that liked to go to the dentist,” Yakiwchuk said of the athlete whose tooth problem was uncovered. “She knew that tooth had broken off quite a while ago, and in her mind, she was just fine and had been ignoring it because there was no pain.”

Referrals for followup care are an important part of the Healthy Athletes program, to ensure athletes get the support they need, and SOBC is redoubling efforts to support athletes to secure those appointments after Healthy Athletes events. The SOBC – Coquitlam athlete was referred to a dentist, and that was just one of nine dental referrals from the Vancouver event needing urgent care; there were also 23 hearing, 12 physiotherapy, and five Health Promotion referrals.

For some, Healthy Athletes is truly life changing. One athlete had never had her eyes tested before and couldn’t see clearly beyond about five feet. She left Opening Eyes with a moderately strong prescription, one of 60 participants receiving free glasses that day.

“This will bring her vision up dramatically,” said Dr. Brad McDougall, B.C. Clinical Director for Opening Eyes. “So not only will she see better to go to the movies, to watch TV, and to go to school, she’s also going to feel a lot more happy and comfortable socially.” And glasses will definitely help her bowling.

People with intellectual disabilities have unique issues around health care and communicating their needs, but many health professionals have not received specific training, or are not familiar enough with intellectual disabilities, to know how to help them effectively.

Practitioners who volunteer their time with the Healthy Athletes program receive specific training to help draw out issues. The Healthy Athletes experience is rewarding for the medical volunteers and athletes alike. For students, it provides critical experience with individuals with intellectual disabilities that will help them treat more effectively as they enter the medical workforce.

Sam Nolan, a UBC Pharmacy student who manned the registration desk at Opening Eyes, relished his Healthy Athletes experience.

“I thought it would be a really good experience working with a different group of people. And it’s a group I’m not very familiar with. So far it’s been a really awesome day,” Nolan said. He added that it was heartwarming to see how happy the athletes were and how dedicated their families are.

“It’s really inspiring,” he said.

VCC student Joo Park, who first attended to the SOBC – Coquitlam athlete in Special Smiles, was just as keen.

“It’s such a good opportunity to see what’s going on in the real world,” Park said. “I’ve never had the opportunity before to work with people with special needs and get experience with community dental work.”

The specialized Healthy Athletes attention helps athletes and families alike. For SOBC – Surrey athlete Grant Taylor, having a really good regular dentist isn’t enough. When he came to Healthy Athletes with his sister Sheridan Taylor, they were able to get a refresher together on areas where he had been neglecting his oral hygiene.

“Perhaps when he was at the dentist he may not have passed some things along to me, so it was nice to be here with him in the moment and going through it so I have the information as well,” Sheridan said. She also had help creating a followup care plan for her brother, and Grant picked up a free oral-care kit, one of many healthy giveaways.

“It’s definitely difficult navigating through everything that he needs and so this event really is great,” Sheridan said. “We wait for it all year.”

More photos

More Healthy Athletes information

Enjoying the Opening Eyes experience at the Healthy Athletes Screening Day in Vancouver.

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Testimonials

"Working with Special Olympics has been an eye-opener. The athletes have such a positive attitude and have overcome so many obstacles it is a great reminder that anything is possible. The athletes are so appreciative it makes all the effort and planning worthwhile!"
-Nazima, health professional

“Everyone’s been dedicating their time, and that’s what stood out for me the most. I can’t believe this is happening, all these people putting in their time and effort doing this, this is a lot of work."
-Conrad, SOBC athlete, at the 2012 Healthy Athletes Screening Day

“It is the most wonderful feeling at Provincial Games to see the amazing health practitioners involved in the Special Olympics BC Healthy Athletes program. They take the time to check the eyes of every athlete. If prescription glasses are needed they are given for free, and if not, the athlete gets to pick out a pair of sunglasses. Healthy Athletes is such a great gift to all the participants.”
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SOBC coach Jim Cormier