As Glenn Barnes, a Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV assistant professor who specializes in sports medicine, watched medical personnel rush to the aid of Buffalo Bills' safety Damar Hamlin, who collapsed during a recent televised game with the Cincinnati Bengals, he couldn’t help remembering when he was part of a medical team providing emergency care to UNLV football player Ty’Jason Roberts, who lay motionless on the field after making a tackle.
It was September 2018 when Roberts came up to tackle an opposing runner during a blowout win against Prairie View A&M. The hit, Dr. Barnes recalls, left the defensive back laying face down on the field, triggering a sprint to his side by UNLV emergency personnel that included physicians, athletic trainers, and emergency medical technicians. They assessed Roberts’ condition and immediately called for the enactment of an emergency action plan.
“We were fresh off training for handling a catastrophic injury,” says Barnes, a 2015 Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine graduate who had completed a family medicine residency and was then receiving advanced training through the Kerkorian School of Medicine Sports Medicine Fellowship. “We had an unstable neck fracture that pinched his spinal cord. We were concerned about permanent paralysis.”
Carefully, very carefully – one wrong movement could have guaranteed a life in a wheelchair – members of the medical team turned Roberts over, where he was stabilized on a spinal board before being placed on a cart that took him to an ambulance and an operation at UMC. Prior to the procedure, Roberts later told journalists, he could feel nothing from the waist down.
After a successful operation, Barnes says Roberts, who graduated from UNLV in 2020, would do so well in recovery that he only felt some numbness in his index finger. Hamlin, who suffered a cardiac arrest during his game with the Bengals, now also appears on his way to a promising recovery.
Attention to detail by emergency personnel and fluid coordination of medical services, Barnes says, have played a key role in helping both young men move forward. He points out that both factors are just as important to medical care when an emergency isn’t at hand.
Currently a team physician for the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the Henderson Silver Knights hockey teams and head team physician with the Las Vegas Aviators (the triple-A minor league baseball affiliate of the Oakland Athletics), Barnes says his practice at the UNLV Health Sports Medicine Clinic offers the latest in medical care to prevent, evaluate, treat, and rehabilitate injuries for both recreational and competitive athletes of all ages. The clinic also helps people with active jobs who sometimes suffer the same injuries and need the same care.
It isn’t unusual, he says, for him to be the primary care doctor for daily runners and gym workout zealots, as well as weekend warriors – people engaging, say, in rock climbing, hiking, or softball on Saturday and Sunday.
“I use my knowledge to add value to what my patients already see as valuable – they realize that for the best health and wellness they need to be active,” says the doctor, who will work with patients to customize everything from training routines to nutrition. “What we want to do is ensure the training load is sustainable for years to come…I believe everybody has the ability to be active enough to improve their health. We have to find what works and resonates for them.”
It isn’t enough, Barnes says, for him to say someone should do a 30-minute walk every day. ”I need to know more about the patient. What if he or she lives in a neighborhood they think is dangerous. Then perhaps I need to suggest a stationary bike.”
The sports physician practices what he preaches when it comes to exercise. A runner, he is no stranger to half marathons and he regularly works out with weights at a gym and enjoys yoga. “I love to get the classic runner’s high of euphoria,” he says.
Should his patients incur injuries, which often have to do with musculature, the sports physician, who has been trained to use ultrasound for diagnosis, notes that the UNLV clinic has access to ultrasound imaging which uses sound waves to produce pictures of muscles, ligaments, nerves, tendons, and joints throughout the body. It is used to help diagnose strains, sprains, trapped nerves, arthritis, and other musculoskeletal conditions.
“Generally, I don’t have to refer people out for MRIs…There are only a few things that an MRI shows better than ultrasound. We can find out what’s wrong the same day. For instance, if someone has shoulder pain we can find out right away if it is a tear or tendonitis. We can use the ultrasound as they go through treatment and track their recovery.”
Barnes, who has been a ringside physician at UFC fights and a team physician for the Las Vegas Aces, says what makes the treatment of professional athletes different is the unlimited resources often at their disposal. “There is no delay in care,” he says. For instance, if the best specialist for a particular condition affecting a Golden Knights player is in Chicago or New York, the athlete is simply sent. “You can get anything you want without insurance authorization.”
Professional athletes either come to his office on Rainbow Boulevard – it’s in a medical building complex next to Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center – or he goes to the team’s training facilities. The Golden Knights training facilities, he says, often have needed medical supplies on hand. He says that for the most part, the only time team physicians travel with a team is during the playoffs.
Born in San Jose, California, Barnes spent most of his early years in Lake Havasu, Arizona, before moving with family to Las Vegas in high school. He fell in love with science during middle school as he dissected frogs. “I realized that all these organs I was seeing were working to keep the frog alive…I was getting insight beyond what you can usually see. I was in awe.”
His desire to become a physician also began in middle school when his older brother underwent knee surgery. The anesthesiologist spoke to him about how his brother would be treated. “I was amazed at how my brother could get over his nervousness and undergo a procedure without any pain and then recover and have his situation resolved.”
Married to a nurse practitioner who works in a hospital intensive care unit and the father of two young sons, Barnes is clear about how he wants his patients to think of him.
“I want my patients to say that they feel like I truly care about them, took time to understand them, and gave them good, effective care that helped them thrive in their lives.”