Knocked Out

Medical effects of concussion far worse for kids.

"Fogginess is the lead predictor of lasting head trauma," says Beth Baldinger, the attorney representing Ryne's family in a suit against the district. "[The trainer] ignored the test results in front of her. This case screams ignorance."

Michele Chemidlin, the trainer who administered the test, ignored phone messages and an e-mail requesting comment for this story. She claimed to Sports Illustrated that Ryne's test was interrupted by a "disruptive" teammate, which made the results "invalid." But Baldinger claims that the trainer retracted that story in a recent deposition.

"She testified that she never even bothered to see Ryne's test results," says the attorney. "It was one of the most brutal depositions I've ever been involved in. She left the room crying several times."

Five years ago, former soccer player Natasha Helmick (left) once played a game half-blind after sustaining a concussion. Today, her mother Micky says that it takes her daughter three times as long to complete mental tasks.
Photo by Mark Graham
Five years ago, former soccer player Natasha Helmick (left) once played a game half-blind after sustaining a concussion. Today, her mother Micky says that it takes her daughter three times as long to complete mental tasks.
Miami's David Goldstein spoke to the Florida legislators about devastating health problems that developed after he suffered multiple concussions. Despite his testimony, Florida killed a concussion bill for youth athletes.
Photo by Michael McElroy
Miami's David Goldstein spoke to the Florida legislators about devastating health problems that developed after he suffered multiple concussions. Despite his testimony, Florida killed a concussion bill for youth athletes.

Kenneth Podell, a Detroit neuropsychologist and one of the creators of ImPACT, declined to comment specifically on Dougherty's case. But he says that "in ideal circumstances," the test should be administered not by a trainer but by a medical professional.

"It's better than nothing," says UCLA's Hovda about ImPACT. "I don't mean any disrespect, but neuropsychological tests, which require responses and performance from individuals, are always going to have problems because there's always going to be variances."

One of those variances is that an athlete can cheat the system. In April, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning flippantly admitted he intentionally performs poorly on baseline exams. When and if he takes post-concussion tests, the results won't look as bad, which means he (or anyone else who employs a similar baseline-test strategy) may be able to return immediately to play. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell later fessed up that concussion-test cheating is an issue the league needs to address.

Complicating head-trauma detection is a recently released Purdue University study that concludes that youth athletes who aren't clinically diagnosed with a concussion are still experiencing fundamental brain changes that may be detrimental.

For two seasons, three Purdue professors tracked every practice and game hit sustained by 21 Lafayette Jefferson High School (Indiana) football players. "That's when we started to see that about half of the kids had some level of easily measurable neurophysiological change without any concussion whatsoever," says Purdue's Eric Nauman.

"What we think is probably happening is that since these kids don't have any symptoms, nobody ever takes them out of the game or makes them sit. They probably keep racking up more and more hits and it tends to affect more and more of the brain."

Nauman and his colleagues are looking for funding so they can study soccer players, wrestlers and participants in activities that aren't usually thought of as dangerous. "Anecdotally, the cheerleaders at Purdue had almost as many concussions as the football players," says Nauman.
_____________________

"No bill is better than a bad bill," says Senator Dennis Jones, a working chiropractor who, in May, helped to kill a concussion law in Florida. "As chiropractors, we've been treating head injuries since 1931. The symptoms of a concussion are not that difficult to diagnose."

Florida is one of the only states to balk at concussion legislation for youth athletes, a nationwide trend that started in 2009 when Washington gave a thumbs-up to the Zackery Lystedt Law. A prototype for dozens to come, the act requires any athlete under 18 who suffers a suspected concussion to receive written consent from a medical professional before returning to play. (There is no similar federal law.)

In Texas, Natasha's Law, named after former soccer player Natasha Helmick, was signed by Governor Rick Perry in June after the Senate passed the bill by a 31-0 margin. And, beginning on January 1, 2012, Colorado's Jake Snakenberg Act will take the Lystedt Law one step further by requiring every coach in youth athletics to complete an online concussion recognition course.

Florida, however, recoiled from its own version of concussion safety because Jones (R-Seminole) was miffed that the language did not include the back-cracking set among "medical professionals."

David Goldstein, the Miami high school soccer player, even testified in favor of the bill in Tallahassee. Jones didn't help his cause, recalls David, by talking on the Senate floor about how standard MRIs can be used to detect concussions, which is a fallacy. Jones filed an amendment to include chiropractors. The house refused to vote on the amended bill; it died on the floor.

After suffering three concussions, David had been told by doctors to "wait it out, never play soccer again and good luck." It wasn't until he visited the University of Miami — one of the nation's top medical centers for head trauma in student-athletes — that David's injury wasn't treated as some unfathomable affliction. The doctors slowly worked him back to the point where he could return to soccer wearing a rugby helmet. Now 16, he's a starter on varsity.

David is the son of the CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises and attends a $28,000-a-year high school. That prompts an obvious question: If his treatment by coaches and trainers was botched, something that could be prevented by a concussion law, what chance does a regular kid — one whose parents can't pay every specialist in town — possibly have?

David tried to do something about that. Last year, he organized a raffle at his school and wrote letters asking for cash until he had raised $35,000, which will be donated to the Miami-Dade school district. It will pay for three to four years of ImPACT tests for every public school in the county.

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My Voice Nation Help
14 comments
Jenna
Jenna

you know, people might say "i can't believe she lied to her coach if she couldnt even see fully!" about tasha..but this is her passion! Its her life! i just wish she had've been more careful! i love her to death and i worry about her and her brother! (she's my cousin!)

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randyfleming
randyfleming

Same cover story in the Seattle Weekly ?!.Hmm-m.

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JRCash
JRCash

"[H]e'll never get to experience what it's like to play in a Texas [high school football] playoff game."

Priorities.

And I'm no squishy, overprotective parent worried about "violence" here - I played TX high school football and plenty of ice hockey as an adult. I had to eventually give up the hockey because of... concussions.

I'm still just floored that this coach actually thinks he took something away from that kid, because he stopped what was obviously a train wreck waiting to happen. Honestly, bro - the question should be did you stop him soon enough?!

BecauseIsaidso
BecauseIsaidso

What kind of Society do we live in, which allows our children to be maimed for life, when they are just "playing a game'? Our children trust us and it is up to every parent and coach to teach them right from wrong, permanent injury is terribly wrong.

Joshua Rotenberg MD
Joshua Rotenberg MD

Thank you for this brave and detailed exploration of head injuries in our children. No test or any machine "that goes bing" substitutes for expert evaluation and treatment. Any neuropsychological test should be interpreted by a professional with expertise in this area. Please see the consensus statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Joshua Rotenberg MD, pediatric Neurologist, Houston, Texas www.txmss.com

JRCash
JRCash

This isn't an indictment of "Society." Society, culture, or whatever doesn't do a darn thing that "allows our children to be maimed for life... 'playing a game.'" These are things that happen while playing a game, yes. But no one and nothing intentionally intends for kids to get hurt.

You completely, utterly, totally missed the point. You drove right by the point 250 miles ago.

And permanent injury isn't "wrong." Wrong implies a decision. Injuries are unfortunate, and some are tragic. But they are not "wrong." My broken hand (now arthritic) isn't "wrong."

The sad fact is that people are "maimed," to use your term, every single day, in random accidents and suffer injuries doing any number of normal, plain vanilla activities.

Sheesh.

S S
S S

Actually, JRCash, you mixed up a few points and are wrong about all of them. When adults organize games and sports for children, and structure rules and ways of playing them, there is all kinds of intention in them, including putting children in situations in which they are likely (and sometimes taught) to receive or inflict injuries, some of them permanent and disabling. I am quite certain you could find glaring examples of such things within a few blocks of your home, if you care to look (or listen for the applauding parents). Many of us recall very well being told as children that if we could not accept pain, we could not play sports. Pretending this is not the case is disingenous, if not irresponsible. Chidren are unable (legally and otherwise) to consent to conditions that can lead to serious injury, and for adults to do so on their behalf is not only not an accident of any sort, it is the definition of wrong. Finally, games and sports are social and cultural from top to bottom, period.

 
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