University at Buffalo wrestler Corey Hollister thought nothing of getting his head hit during a wrestling practice last spring.
"I went in for a shot and was hit in the head by my partner's knee," Hollister said about the late-season injury.
But minutes later, Hollister was hit in the head a second time. And it would be six months before he felt like himself again.
Hollister was sent to John Leddy, M.D., professor of clinical orthopedics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB and director of the Concussion Management Clinic, who, after testing, diagnosed a nervous system disorder in addition to concussion. Leddy prescribed a months-long regimen of daily training to help Hollister recover fully.
Countless patients like Corey Hollister have benefited from treatment by UB sports medicine physicians, especially since 2011, when the late Ralph C. Wilson Jr., founder and Hall of Fame owner of the Buffalo Bills, and his wife, Mary Wilson, gave $1 million to the UB department of orthopedics and sports medicine.
Now, four years later, Mary Wilson and her fellow trustees of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation have again chosen to support UB sports medicine, this time with a gift of $4 million to establish the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Center of Excellence in Sports Medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Mary Wilson said the foundation is giving again to UB in recognition of its sports medicine doctors and the success of their teaching and research in the field.
"We are proud to announce today's grant to the University at Buffalo to establish the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Center of Excellence in Sports Medicine," she said Thursday. "As owner of the Bills, Ralph often said team doctors were the most important players on the sideline. This grant is yet another testament to the incredible, groundbreaking work taking place right here in Western New York that has an impact on athletes across the country."
The Wilsons knew the UB sports medicine doctors as team physicians for their Buffalo Bills football team. The physicians also serve as team doctors for the Buffalo Sabres hockey club and Buffalo Bandits lacrosse team, as well as for the UB Bulls.
The Wilson Foundation gift will allow UB sports medicine to continue addressing a wide range of health concerns - including concussion and trauma care - for all its patients, from aging seniors to professional athletes to weekend warriors and student-athletes like Corey Hollister.
John Marzo, M.D., UB associate professor of clinical orthopedics, who worked nearly two decades as Buffalo Bills' medical director for Ralph Wilson, talked about what the gift means for the department.
"We feel extremely lucky to be the recipient of one of the legacy grants through the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation," Marzo said. "What the grant will allow us to do is to continue our programs in perpetuity."
One of those programs involves Leddy's work in the Concussion Management Clinic, where Hollister was treated. Hollister had sustained a concussion, and suffered all the classic symptoms: dizziness, nausea, severe and constant headaches, sensitivity to lights and sounds.
"This was my first concussion, so I thought I would recover easily and get back on the mat," Hollister said.
But after returning two months later, he was quickly reinjured. And this time, the headaches were much worse.
Hollister had never been seriously injured in his wrestling career, which began when he was a third-grader in Perry. UB recruited Hollister, a four-year member and three-year team captain of the Perry Central High School wrestling team, because of his ability to win. He finished his senior season with an overall record of 45-4, the first wrestler from his hometown to earn multiple trips to the New York state tournament.
"I had no idea what was going on, and my parents were very concerned," Hollister said. "I wondered if my head was ever going to go back to the way it was."
Hollister, who has been approved to compete in his senior season of wrestling at UB, is grateful to have been a patient of Leddy and the UB sports medicine team.
"By seeing the UB sports medicine doctors, especially Dr. Leddy, I was able to see that I would get better and I would be able to wrestle again," he said. "Dr. Leddy has an expertise in head and brain injuries that general sports medicine doctors don't have. He definitely helped a lot. The UB sports medicine folks monitored me every step of the way and helped me recover."
The new gift will continue to support several initiatives that were begun as a result of the Wilsons' first gift in 2011:
The Ralph and Mary Wilson Visiting Professor Lecture Series, which Marzo said, "has allowed us an enlightened intellectual interchange between some of the world's experts in sports medicine" and brought greater exposure of UB's program worldwide.
The arthroscopy teaching lab, where the physicians teach surgical skills to UB residents and fellows in a controlled environment, using a virtual reality arthroscopy simulator, one of only seven or eight in existence. This allows the students to learn with "no time constraints and much less pressure," Marzo said, adding, "Across the board, my partners and I have seen that their skill level has risen from what we used to see, when we had to teach them in bits and pieces in a real operating room."
Groundbreaking research in traumatic brain injury. Leddy and his researchers are internationally renowned for a program that can determine when or whether it would be safe for athletes to return to play, Marzo said, noting "this has helped them garner an NIH-level grant. So we're finding that the seed money, if you will, from the Wilsons has helped us leverage other grants and industrial financial support for continued research."
Bringing the best doctors to Western New York. "The exposure from the Wilson visiting professorship and other initiatives funded through the Wilson gift has allowed us to attract more highly trained and better qualified trainees, who end up staying in Western New York after their UB teaching experience. So, slowly, we're populating this area with what we think are better and more highly trained clinician scientists," Marzo said.
"It will be an honor to carry on the Wilson name through the endowment," Marzo said. "Thanks to the Wilson Foundation, we'll continue our programs and I know (Ralph Wilson) would be very proud of it. Mr. Wilson's loyalty to his staff, to the people of Western New York, and particularly to his players was legendary. This will be a way for us to carry on the Wilson name and all will see the programs we have providing good clinical care to the patients and athletes of Western New York."
About the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation
The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation is a newly funded private foundation headquartered in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. The foundation was established in 2011 by Ralph C. Wilson Jr. to eventually become the vehicle to receive a substantial amount of his estate's proceeds, which are to be used exclusively for charitable purposes. Wilson passed away March 25, 2014, after which the trustees liquidated the majority of his estate's assets and funded the foundation with $1.2 billion in early 2015. It measures in the top five of Michigan-based private foundations and has a 20-year lifespan. The same four individuals who served as trustees for Wilson's estate are designated as life trustees of the foundation. Three trustees will be added in the near future.