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UPMC establishing itself as world leader in concussion treatment

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CBS News Pittsburgh Live

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Over the past few decades, concussions have become much more of a focal point in sports.

Many top athletes from around the world are now coming to Pittsburgh for treatment.  

Fox Chapel native Chip Ganassi has been around motorsports for decades as a driver and now team owner. He's seen the evolution of concussion care during that time.  

"I think really the testing and the what we do know and what we don't know," he said. 

Over the past two decades, UPMC has become a world leader in addressing concussions and treatment and Ganassi has seen the benefits of the treatment programs at UPMC's South Side offices.

"The good news is Pittsburgh is the place to go now for this type of injury. That's a real feather in our cap I think, being Pittsburghers and being from here," Ganassi said.

The architect of UPMC's concussion program is Dr. Micky Collins. He says it was the first in the world when it began back in 2000.

"We don't dabble in this. This is all we do," Collins said. 

Collins says concussions are a very common injury and are a result of the brain moving in the skull. Think of your brain as an egg yolk inside an eggshell. When your brain moves too much, it can be damaged.

"We've now learned that there are six different types of concussions, so it's not this one size fits all thing," Collins said. 

The different types of concussions are based on different factors. Someone could have just one type or all six. According to Collins, there are now roughly 2 million to 3.5 million concussions in sports each year, affecting athletes of all kinds, including racecar drivers.

"Racecar driving is mass times acceleration and that's what caused concussions," Collins said. 

'We're really good at fixing bones and fixing organs," Ganassi said. "The one area I think in the body a lot of people have a question about is the brain."

Ganassi says the racing world is now putting more attention on this injury. They're keeping a better eye on past cases and development for the safety of drivers while also working on preventive measures for the future.

"I would think that would go a long way towards that which I think we're on the way to doing now," Ganassi said. 

Collins says with advancements in concussion treatment, most of the time they're now able to get drivers right back on the track, and he says thanks to the research that's been done here in Pittsburgh over the past two decades, it's "never been safer to have a concussion."

"We just get more and more knowledge, and we apply that in a better way every year. We get better," Collins said. 

Collins says his team continues to research and learn more through the 20,000 people a year who come to Pittsburgh from around the world for concussion treatment.

"We learn by seeing that many patients. No one has written a book on this. All the research and all the things that have been done on this have been done over decades," Collins said. 

Collins says they wanted to make Pittsburgh and UPMC ground zero for concussions, and while he believes they've accomplished their mission, he's still stunned by how far they've come.

"I'd be lying if I thought it would get to this point," he said. 

"Pittsburgh has a way of doing the right thing and putting the right group of people together and making the right opportunity available. We let the actions speak louder than the words, I guess," Ganassi said, just like on the court or the field or the track, where actions always speak louder than words.

Now athletes around the world can continue to do what they love with maybe a little less fear about concussions thanks to yet another group of pioneering medical professionals in Pittsburgh.

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