The Lancer

Concussed

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Despite decreasing concussion rates at South Lake, the danger still exists 

Robert Swetlic ’16 | Editor-In-Chief

Nick Marsh ’17 | Staff Writer 

On an ordinary Friday night in October 2013, Freshmen Cameron Sanders was playing linebacker with instructions from the coach to cover the fullback when an opposing player lowered his shoulder and slammed into Sanders, lifting him off the ground.

“I blacked out and the next thing I knew, I was waking up in a hospital,” Sanders said. He would later learn that he had been diagnosed with a concussion.

When Sanders woke up he felt typical symptoms that occur after a head injury.

“I was dizzy and sensitive to light,” said Sanders. “I was very confused and it was difficult to stand, it felt like the room was spinning.”

“They took a lot of scans of my head, after that the doctor came in and told me I had a concussion,” said Sanders. Sanders was out of the game for two weeks after the initial injury occurred.

Sanders had been playing football for six years, and in that time he sustained no major injuries, until the concussion. “I didn’t think a concussion was something that would happen to me, but once it did I was scared”

Sanders tries not to think about the incident.

“It scares me,” said Sanders. “I don’t like thinking about the possibility of an injury putting me out of the game again.”

Once the two-week waiting period was over, Sanders was hesitant to get back in the game.

“I didn’t think I would ever play again after the injury.”

But once Sanders got back on the field, he knew he couldn’t stop.

“I love it too much to quit,” said Sanders.

Sanders concussion was diagnosed as a grade two concussion, meaning there was a loss of consciousness due to impact. Because of this, Sanders experienced no long-term side effects. However, some trainers believe that two weeks may be too short for a head injury to heal.

In addition, the only thing Sanders and any other player with a head injury needs to get back in the game is a doctor’s note. Because of this undefined policy, any doctor can forgo the two week waiting period for a player with a concussion by if they deem the player recovered. And when athletes play with a concussion that has not completely healed, the severity of the repercussions can be life altering.

Because there are no set mandates by the state concerning concussions for student athletes, each district is subject to make its own policy for handling concussions.

Many schools have very short waiting periods before students can get back into the game, and the requirements are a simple as a doctors note in order to play again.

“A student who has been diagnosed with a concussion must wait five days before we allow a doctor’s note to clear them,” said Athletic Director Chris Reinhardt. Reinhardt was very clear that even when a doctor had cleared a player, they must still wait a minimum of five days.

But the debate remains, how long is long enough?

“A concussion is basically a bruise on your brain and as with all bruises there is swelling and bleeding. When this occurs, your brain can’t function right,” said Athletic Trainer and middle school Physical Education Teacher Jill Stockwell.

“Playing with a concussion… it can literally cause death,” Stockwell says, “there is a thing called Second Impact Syndrome. If an athlete plays before they fully recover and get hit again, their brain rapidly swells causing vitals to shut down, leading to death.”

Stockwell is a certified in Athletic Training, which entails handling sports injuries including concussions.

Other than Second Impact Syndrome, players may acquire more subtle injuries to their brains over time. And while subsequent concussions and head injuries may appear to be a non-issue once cleared by a medical professional, the long term side effects are what affect athletes later in life.

A study done by the U.S. National Institutes of Health shows that players who have had multiple concussions show more abnormalities in the brain later in their lives. Such abnormalities can be attributed to include irritability, depression and memory loss. Other long term effects include balance issues, judgement and reaction time. All of these side effects can be derived from concussions that went untreated or multiple head injuries sustained during an athlete’s career.

Due to the serious consequences that playing with a concussion can lead to, it begs the question do doctors and administrators allot enough time for athletes to heal before they can play again? In addition, many schools including South Lake do not require athletes to take any cognitive ability or reflex tests before getting a doctor’s note.

“Some schools do require athletes to take tests and score accurately before being cleared,” said Athletic Director Chris Reinhardt. “South Lake Schools does not currently require these tests, but it is a possibility for the future.”

Reinhardt also emphasized that the football coach ensures that the team helmets are up to standard.

“We as a program are constantly making sure the helmet are the right fit and proper size to make it the safest possible fit for each player,” said Head Coach Nick Marrogy. Marrogy has been the Head Coach for two years and has never had a helmet crack or break.

“Every year we take our helmets in for reconditioning and the company always gives us a report on how old each helmet is and the ones we should replace,” said Marrogy.

Marrogy says that the proper way to prevent concussions in football is to teach the proper way to hit and tackle.

“The game of football has evolved meaning the players are bigger, faster and stronger,” Marrogy says. “And therefore attention to the proper technique is being taught with more detail.”

But football isn’t the only sport where concussions are a risk. Swimming, diving, baseball, soccer and cheerleading have some of the highest concussion rates next to football.

“Coaches and trainers for team sports are always on site and trained to handle concussions and their symptoms,” said Reinhardt.

Reinhardt adds that coaches for all sports are required to have certification in CPR and First Aid so they have prior knowledge on how to handle sports injuries.

 

Above: A concussion occurs when the brain forcefully makes contact with the walls of the skull. The graphic above shows a shaded area on the brain where a bruise would form after a forceful impact occurred.

How do you diagnose something you can’t see? “Immediate signs of a concussion are memory loss, vomiting, inability to track an object and loss of consciousness,” said Stockwell. “From there the athlete has to be evaluated by a doctor, and the doctor will run MRIs and CAT scans to see if the player has a concussion and the severity,” Stockwell added.

Concussions are measured in grades from 1 to 3, grade one being the least severe and grade three being the most.

Stockwell advises players to be aware of any side effects that may indicate that the concussion is not fully healed.

“Ringing in the ears or headaches may indicate that the athlete is still suffering from their concussion.”

Stockwell says that the worst thing a player can do is hide concussion symptoms in order to rush back into the game.

“No two people are the same when it comes to concussions and when they can play again,” said Stockwell, “but playing with a concussion can kill you. Always tell a coach if you think you are still experiencing symptoms.”

Above: A photo warning students of the dangers of concussions hangs in the counseling office, next to the office of Athletic Director Chris Reinhardt.

As for Sanders, he is back on the field playing Varsity football as both a linebacker and slot receiver.

“Thinking about it now, it makes me realize I’ll always have to be watching out to make sure I don’t get injured again,” said Sanders.

Sanders was lucky enough to escape long term symptoms of a concussion.

However, other athletes with more severe head injuries might not be so fortunate.

Featured image and infographic created by Robert Swetlic.

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