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Heads Up

Parents, Coaches Urged to Keep A Sharp Eye on Concussions

Deb Beaupre
 (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Deb Beaupre (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

The more we know about concussion, the longer an athletic staff at a high school waits before they allow kids back on the field after a hit. In the best interest of the players, this waiting is a good thing.

Coaches and athletic departments across the country are making every effort to educate players and their families about the risks and warning signs involved with concussion, explaining why they are now doing concussion baseline testing and what the procedure will be should the child be injured during a game. Kids can’t even return to practice until they have been retested. It can be frustrating, on one hand, but it gives their brains and bodies a chance to heal properly.

Coaches are amazed at what can be gleaned about the brain just in the nurse’s office, and respond really well. Harmful drills are being exchanged for ones that can still teach the skill play while also protecting the athlete.

Getting a whack to your head isn’t like it was when we were coming up. Your mom would ask you questions suited for committal to a mental home, check that your eyes lined up straight, take your temperature and give you children’s aspirin. Then you’d rest with a cool towel as she told you not to sleep. You were convinced you would die the second you fell asleep, because concussions were mysterious back then.

All it took was a little healthy fear to keep you alert all afternoon.

There was one time when our own family had to go up to DHMC to see about a head injury. We had been at the PTA end-of-year picnic at our elementary school. The kids see this as their chance to go hog-wild on the playground and do all the things that were forbidden during the day. So 50 kids are walking up the slide when mine gets thrown off. He lay there for a long enough time to scare his classmates into calling for the parents.

He was treated, released and, eventually, after a day or two of watchful waiting, was fine.

Episodes such as that can mislead parents into thinking that coaches are making much ado about nothing since it is so similar to when we were kids. It’s like: “Look, the kid’s fine. What’s the big deal? Why can’t he play?”

The big deal is brain research.

There’s so much more we know now about the brain and how amazing and yet how fragile it is.

You only get only so many chances. And helmets aren’t magical. Growing brains need protecting. Getting hit by pucks, sticks, balls, other heads, knees, elbows and the ground can only happen so many times before the damage is too much.

The bigger deal is second-impact syndrome, or SIS. That’s when you experience another hit before healing from the first. In these instances, the brain swells quickly, which could lead to cerebral edema. And it’s important to note that it disproportionately affects teens who play contact sports.

But a problem is emerging where suffering a concussion is not just an abstract thing, but becomes a policy prohibiting a kid from being out on the field/court/etc. I learned this while talking with athletic directors from all over the country this summer at a conference. The revelation was stunning.

Now that they know the signs of concussion, unfortunately, some student-athletes also know what not to tell parents coaches, trainers and doctors. It is up to the parents to keep an eagle eye out for signs that our players may have sustained a concussion during practice that the coaches may have missed. Some of those signs are:

■ Headache;

■ Vision disturbance;

■ Dizziness;

■ Loss of balance;

■ Confusion;

■ Memory loss (amnesia);

■ Ringing in the ears;

■ Difficulty concentrating;

■ Nausea;

■ Feeling foggy or groggy;

■ Sensitivity to light or noise.

Goodness knows, I do not want to give parents one more thing to do, but the reality is that concussions can have lifelong implications. We as parents need to maintain our vigilance, to think about what’s best for our kids despite their protests. As the recent settlements with former players of the NFL have shown, concussions can lead to death, as in the heartbreaking story of Derek Sheely (Valley News, Sept. 5) and many others that are coming to the forefront. The message is clear: Ignoring them is dangerous.

I make a lot of fun of sports in this column and will continue to do so in the coming year. Concussions are too serious, with potentially deadly implications. Please, pay attention to the protocols and the warning signs and give the kids a chance at life once the season ends.

Deb Beaupre is the mother of three athletes, the wife of a high school athletic director and can’t throw a ball to save her life.