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From the sideline, to the frontline: Local athletic trainer recounts how his job changed during COVID-19

The face of Shawn Matsunaga has become a staple at Millington Central High School since 2015.

But the man known as Doc Shawn, Doc or simply Shawn is known in the Memphis/Shelby Metro area for springing into action whenever an athlete goes down with an injury.

Whether you are a student/athlete from MCHS, Raleigh-Egypt, Bartlett, Collierville or Bolton, Matsunaga has lent his expertise to those in need. When TSSAA athletics came to a screeching halt in March, Matsunaga did what comes naturally to him as a licensed athletic trainer at OrthoSouth.

“I have been a clinic screener since spring break,” Matsunaga said. “For me personally, it has been a little challenging, but I really can’t complain. Unlike many others, I’m still employed.

Professionally a lot has changed. My job title has temporarily switched from licensed athletic trainer to clinic screener.”

If high school sports had continued during the spring, Matsunaga would have appeared at soccer matches and a few baseball games, squeezed in some softball and make a guest appearance at the track.

“First half of March was atypical,” he recalled. “I was doing rehab on athletes, helping condition athletes for spring sports, and covering practices. After spring break, my title became clinic screener and has remained the same through the present day.”

COVID-19/coronavirus has impacted all lives in the United States and most of the world since it officially became a pandemic in mid-March. Matsunaga, 54, is used to changing on the fly, working various wrestling tournaments, spending fall Friday nights on a football sideline and hovering near the baseline during basketball season.

Matsunaga, who earned a Bachelor of arts in athletic training, would be summoned once an athlete hit the ground in pain. He was keen on being first to any student once injury struck. Now he is using those instincts and skills to help battle coronavirus.

“My duties as a screener on the frontline include checking the temperature of everyone who enters our facility,” he noted. “In addition, I generally screen them, ask them if they have any abnormal coughs, shortness of breath, in the last 14 days been around anyone that tested positive for COVID-19. Anyone with a fever is not allowed in our clinics right now, including employees.”

Working for various schools over the past 26 years, Matsunaga’s wife, Milene, and daughters, Jeanette and Miya, didn’t have to worry too much about his physical well-being coming back home.

But this pandemic has made Matsunaga more cautious and alert to his surroundings. Matsunaga is a part of the OrthoSouth team. The urgent care facility has 10 locations in the Memphis metro area.

At OrthoSouth, the goal is to help patients recover and learn how to take care of their bodies. The history of the organization dates back to 1942. To find out more information about OrthoSouth, visit orthosouth.org.

Working on the frontline now, Matsunaga and his colleagues are paying close attention to the Center of Disease Control’s changing guidelines.

“Stay home,” Matsunaga said. “Take care of yourself and your family. Wash your hands frequently and don’t touch your face. This disease is like a ninja and has already killed 88 people as of (Friday) in Shelby County.”

Decades of working with students/athletes who reached the Division I level and even the pros was the norm for Matsunaga. He hopes to return to the sideline soon in safe conditions.

“Well as of now we have a new normal,” Matsunaga said. “So everything we are used to doing we can’t. What I miss most about the old normal is you didn’t have to be a germaphobe or OCD about cleaning.

“My hope for August,” he concluded, “and I’m really reaching — is a vaccine and/or successful treatment.”

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