Perhaps without knowing, Ray Cox covered an extremely timely topic for March — Brain Injury Awareness Month — in his March 5 Current article “Radford High junior works past pain.” We were appalled and angered by his cavalier attitude toward an injury that can have serious, long-term consequences.
His glorification, in detail, of the Radford High School basketball player “battling a suspected concussion” and continuing to play is exactly what’s needed to encourage more student athletes to jeopardize their futures by continuing to play with an injured brain. A concussion is a brain injury. If the symptoms Cox detailed were accurate, that is what the young woman suffered.
No one can tell exactly how injured a brain is from outside the body, any more than one can tell exactly how blocked an artery is from the outside. Hopefully, the Bobcat player has had a thorough medical evaluation since the game, including an MRI.
Brain injury specialists will tell you that returning to play too soon, even after suffering a slight concussion, jeopardizes a person’s recovery and doubles the risk of suffering a second concussive injury. One only has to learn the story of young Zach Lystedt of Seattle, Wash., to get a real dose of reality. He has been confined to a wheelchair and severely disabled for more than two years since suffering multiple concussions in one athletic event.
His story was covered in a recent Dan Rather HDNet special on sports related concussions. The most recently compiled statistics reported by Rather on frequency of occurrence, as well as the latest research on long-term effects, were staggering.
Annually 3.8 million sports related concussions are reported. Specialists say that most, with proper care, can recover. However, a soon-to-be-released study by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio reports that 41 percent of student athletes return to play too soon, thus foregoing that critical proper care.
Sending a brain-injured athlete back into the game is no different than sending a brain-injured soldier back into war. Both are placed in double jeopardy.
A recent New York Times article states that as many as 360,000 U.S. troops have suffered brain injuries, mostly concussions. Soldiers who appear fine on the outside have had their brains severely concussed by improvised explosive devices. Our children’s heads crashing helmet-to-helmet on playing fields or slamming into the floor on an indoor court do not leave their brains unscathed.
For young athletes, the most important thing in the world is to return to the game. They are unaware of the long-term consequences which might result from concussions, such as memory problems, mood swings, learning challenges, behavioral changes, to name a few.
The Sports Concussion Center in Pittsburgh sees 150 new sports related concussion patients per week whose disabilities may or may not have had immediate onset of such symptoms.
There is no cure for brain injury. Appropriate support services are woefully scarce. According to the Centers for Disease Control and the Virginia Brain Injury Central Registry, at least 4,137 people in the New River Valley are living with challenges from this disability.
The longer our student athletes, coaches, parents and the rest of the general public support the “play it through” attitude Cox portrays toward participation in sports, the greater the number of people living with the serious disability of brain injury will grow.
There can be a more positive outcome. Protect the futures of our young athletes by learning the facts about concussions, and by absolutely insisting that proper care be taken when they occur.
The Rookers are the founders of Brain Injury Services of SWVA. They live in Radford.
This story originally appeared in The Roanoke Times on