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A boost for Laker sports medicine

The Laker sports medicine team: Athletic trainer Michelle Sonnenberg, Dr. Tom Seaworth and Dr. Nick Esala. PIPPI MAYFIELD/DL NEWSPAPERS

The sports medicine team at Sanford Health and Detroit Lakes High School is expanding.

Dr. Nick Esala is joining Dr. Tom Seaworth and Athletic Trainer Michelle Sonnenberg to round out that team that cares for Detroit Lakes athletes.

“Parents and colleagues appreciate this,” Seaworth said. “It’s a lot of fun and provides a good service.”

This is Seaworth’s 22nd year with the school and Sonnenberg’s ninth year.

Esala, a Perham native, just joined the Sanford team as a family medicine physician. His position with the sports medicine team at the high school was the perfect fit, since he finished a fellowship in sports medicine in Milwaukee.

He said that he was happy to be able to come back to the area to work.

Seaworth said he started working with the school district years ago when students at sporting events would get hurt and couldn’t get in to see their regular physician. He started coming to the sporting events and treating them instead.

Then in 1993, Sanford stared providing an athletic trainer to the students.

Between Sonnenberg and Seaworth, and now Esala, the team covers all home events at the school and some of the away games.

Seaworth said the athletic trainer can take care of 90 percent of the athletes’ needs at the games, and a physician can take care of 90 percent of the remaining concerns. The remainder just can’t be done on the field or on the court.

“I’ve never seen an orthopedic surgeon do surgery on the field,” he said.

He said the purpose of the sports medicine team at the school is not to recruit clients for Sanford. They don’t care what clinic or doctor the students go to; it’s about giving back to the community and helping the students.

He said that Activities Director Mitch McLeod once told him that “DLHS has better coverage than some small colleges,” Seaworth said.

The team can help the students who may not be able to get in to see their regular physician right away. Or tend to students that don’t have insurance and can’t make it to the doctor for something minor.

Sonnenberg has an office at the high school and provides all the taping and some therapies for students. Because of the time spent with the kids, she also has learned to read some students better than they may let on.

For instance, she likely knows if a student has a higher pain threshold and the issue he or she is seeing Sonnenberg for is greater than they are saying. Or, she can tell if a student is in to see her on a regular basis and the concern may be more minor than they imply.

“You can tell what’s going on,” she said of seeing students on a regular basis.  

Besides the games, she also attends several of the practice dates as well.

“She knows the athletes better than anyone,” Seaworth said.

And it’s not just the athletes she sees either. Other students stop in for advice, and adults do as well.

“I see a lot of coaches for their own issues,” she said.

There’s a benefit to those on the sports med team, too: the relationships. Seaworth said it’s nice to establish relationships with the students and receive graduation announcements and even wedding announcements from them.

Besides just taping students up and sending them back into the game, Seaworth said the sports med team has held multiple sessions with students, coaches, parents, etc., to get everyone educated on healthy activities. That could be anything from concussions to other injuries, better hygiene to nutrition, hydration to avoiding drugs and alcohol.

They have given the presentations themselves and also brought in other dieticians and speakers to help with the education.

Sanford has also donated medical equipment and supplies to the school for the sporting events.

Having the sports medicine team on hand doesn’t dismiss the need to visit the doctor, though. Esala said they still need to see athletes for their sports physicals in the clinic setting.

“It’s a great learning opportunity for them to sit down and talk one-on-one,” he said.

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