portable immersion systems that facilitate the rapid cooling of athletes experiencing heat exhaustion, heat stress or heat stroke
High school football season is now in full swing with daily rigorous practices in the sweltering heat, and players loaded down with helmets and pads.
In recognition of the dangers that the heat can pose to student athletes, Lake Health announced that it has purchased 12 Polar Life Pods for each Lake County high school and college it works with. These schools include, Perry, Madison, Riverside, Painesville Harvey, Fairport, Andrews Osborne Academy, Kirtland, Eastlake North, Willoughby South, Wickliffe and Mentor, as well as Lakeland Community College.
Polar Life Pods are portable immersion systems that facilitate the rapid cooling of athletes experiencing heat exhaustion, heat stress or heat stroke. The pods resemble a hooded sleeping bag in which an athlete experiencing heat stroke can be easily zipped up in and monitored. An athlete up to 7 feet tall and 400 pounds can be accommodated inside the pod. The Polar Life Pods cost $325 each.
This system is the first of its kind, invented by an athletic trainer from Dayton. The company, Polar Products Inc., is based in Cuyahoga Falls and creates many other cooling products, such as vests and neck wraps.
“In the past, there was no product designed for this purpose. They had to adapt big 300-gallon water troughs that had to be set up ahead of time,” said William Graessle, president of Polar Products Inc. “They’re quite a ways from that reservoir and the reservoir has to be kept really cold the whole practice, which is almost impossible to do. If that water is not ice cold, it can’t cool the athlete quickly.”
The polar pods only require 30 to 60 gallons of water, which are poured in after the athlete is inside the pod. This water can be kept in the same multigallon coolers that athletes drink from.
The pods contain a flotation pillow that allow the athlete to become complete immersed, while keeping their airways clear.
“It hyperextends the neck to keep the airways up high, while still allowing the bottom half of the head and the neck to be in the ice water, very key points for cooling the body,” Graessle said.
The Polar Products Inc. team emphasizes the idea of “cool first, transport second.” Graessle explains that from the time an athlete begins to show symptoms of heat stroke, there is a 15-20 minute window to get the athletes temperature down to 102 degrees. If that can’t be done, the athlete can suffer permanent injuries.
“Brain, heart and nerve damage,” John Smith, director of sports medicine for Lake Health said. “Brain, obviously being the worst, and that’s what goes first.”
Although heat stroke is considered “exceedingly rare” — there have been 11,000 cases of heat stroke in the past 10 years, said Mike Mockbee, senior product manager at Polar Products Inc. — it is also considered 100 percent preventable.
“The only thing that we keep saying is it’s a defibrillator type situation,” Graessle said. “Remember 10 years ago, you didn’t see defibrillators everywhere. Now, they’re everywhere. You hope to never have to use it and that’s kind of the approach here.”
Smith added that these systems are easily used by anyone who has had training with the pods. If an athletic trainer is not on the scene, a coach could easily begin cooling down an athlete suffering from heat stroke.
“It’s safer for the trainers, it’s safer for the athlete and it’s more convenient that you can bring it to all the fields you need,” Mockbee said.