Impact Of Concussions Draws New Attention

Topeka, Kan. (WIBW) - Last Thanksgiving, Hayden grad and then-St. Louis University freshman Jeff Reid took a shot that changed his life.

They were playing Notre Dame, and Jeff made a move to cut off a player who was driving the baseline. When the opponent quickly switched directions, Jeff saw white and fell to the ground.

Jeff doesn't remember what happened, but is told he took an elbow to the head. One second he was in the game, the next thing he remembers is being on the bench, talking to a trainer. When he tried to work out the next day, he became dizzy and developed a headache that wouldn't go away.

Jeff had suffered a severe concussion.

Medical professionals are shedding new light on the dangers of concussions, particularly among young athletes. The Centers for Disease Control says 300,000 sports-related concussions are reported each year, but, because of lack of awareness over what a concussion really is, the number may be closer to 3.8 million

In Kansas, the recent death of a Spring Hill High School football player brought home the very real risks of head injuries.

Darlene Whitlock, RN, a trauma nurse at Stormont-Vail HealthCare, says the brain is a message center with electrical impulses moving thru tissues, and, when there is a concussion, it gets short circuited. She says sometimes the brain cells die, sometimes they bleed and bruise, and sometimes they're just stunned for a few minutes.

It doesn't always mean a loss of consciousness. Whitlock knows that both as a trauma nurse and as a mom. Her son, Lance, was playing a junior college football game when he suddenly collapsed and lost consciousness. He didn't wake up for more than two hours. Doctors discovered he had 18 bruises around his brain from repetitive concussive injuries, the cumulative effects of continuing to play football instead of letting them heal.

Thankfully, Lance fully recovered, but not everyone is so lucky. Dr. Michael McCann says the NFL recently studied its own players as examples and found many were experiencing long-term damage from playing through multiple concussions. It was manifesting in the form of conditions like dimentia, Alzheimers and Parkinsons.

The good news, McCann says, is the brain will heal itself, if given time. He says any player who suffers a concussion should immediately be taken out of the activity and not return until completely asymptomatic.

That means coaches, parents and athletes should watch for signs such as headache, nausea, dizziness, memory loss, lack of coordination, personality or behavior changes, confusion or feeling tired.

In most cases, the bruise on the brain will repair itself in a couple weeks, but it can take longer, and many young athletes don't want to admit it.

Jeff understands. He says he didn't want to sit out either and considered not telling his trainers, but the headaches wouldn't stop. He spent three weeks basically in the dark - no lights, TV or computer. They wouldn't even let him go to class. It was May before he even worked out again; June before he went full speed.

The scare made him want to return home, so, fully healed, he's taking a shot at Washburn. He spent a season off the court, but he knows he did the right thing.

"My message is to make sure you're fully recovered before you go back out there," he says. "Tell the truth, tell what's going on. You gotta do what's best for you."

The Kansas High School Activities Association this year adopted guidelines for responding to concussions. They say any athlete showing signs of a concussion must be removed from that day's competition and get medical clearance to return.

However, KSHSAA executive director Gary Musselmann says schools are not required to report how many concussions occur, and there's no way to investigate compliance. But he says schools and coaches realize the liability is very real and they want to do what's best for students.

You can find the entire KSHSAA concussion policy and links to information for parents, athletes and coaches at www.kshsaa.org.


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