Over the past three years, University of Toronto students Sandhya and Swapna Mylabathula have worked with Member of Parliament Kirsty Duncan to develop a private member’s bill to address concussions.
The bill was inspired by Sandhya and Swapna’s dual loves of science and hockey – and their confluence in sports medicine. It focuses on prevention, awareness, diagnosis and management for anyone affected by concussion. While concussions have often been considered a relatively harmless part of rough-and-tumble sports, new research has indicated that they may lead to more lasting brain injury. The new bill proposes three federal government initiatives: a National Concussion Awareness Week; a national strategy for addressing concussion-related issues; and the establishment of a Centre for Excellence in Concussion Research. “We haven’t met anyone yet who thinks this is a bad idea,” says Sandhya. “There are a lot of gaps in what’s available to Canadians.”
To prepare the bill, the Mylabathulas started with a literature review, and then traveled to conferences both across Canada and abroad to meet with academics, health-care professionals and people who have been directly affected by concussions. The biggest challenge, says Swapna, has been the slowness of the political process. “We’ve heard many personal stories from Canadians who didn’t have anywhere to turn for help or support, and it was difficult to not be able to speed up the process to more quickly help [them].” Sandhya and Swapna have also been collecting signatures on a series of petitions calling for the bill’s measures to be implemented.
Duncan has already started presenting the petitions in the House of Commons, as a precursor to the first reading of the bill. While very few private member’s bills ever pass into law, Sandhya and Swapna hope that their initiative will serve as a push for the government to take more action on concussions. Ottawa’s November announcement of millions of dollars in funding to study the impact of concussion on developing brains is a great start, but the Mylabathulas are working for much more.
The Mylabathulas both hope to pursue sports medicine – Sandhya is currently working on a master’s in exercise science and Swapna is in medical school – but they haven’t ruled out an eventual (and no doubt tandem) run for public office. “They are top-notch students, but they are also beautiful people,” says Duncan (a professor of health studies currently on leave from UTSC). “Everything they do is about helping others.”
Late on a Friday afternoon, Sandhya and Swapna have no plans to knock off early. Instead, they pull out their petitions and prepare to hustle for more signatures. “There are a lot more things on our radar,” says Swapna, “and it’s amazing to have a chance put your little piece forward in the world.”