Today I read an article in the New York Times about a high school football player who died suddenly in what appears to be a concussion-related injury. These stories always give me a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Every Friday night during football season I am on the sidelines of a high school football game, and these are the exact types of situations that we as physicians are hoping to prevent by voluntarily providing medical coverage during games. The scary thing about these injuries is that the player may not show any signs of injury or concussion until he collapses on the field, and by then it may be too late to prevent the damage.
I’m not trying to scare anyone away from football; I love the game and I enjoy taking care of players as patients. Articles like this highlight the importance of concussion management in high school sports. These rare cerebral hemorrhage events that cause death are usually the result of a second concussion injury shortly after a first concussion. If we can catch the first concussion and treat it properly, not allowing the player to return until their symptoms have cleared, then hopefully we can prevent a catastrophic second-impact injury. Recently, the NFL has stepped up their awareness of the importance of concussions, and is becoming more aggressive in prevention and treatment efforts. It is up to local communities and school systems to step up these efforts at the high school level.
This year, Norton Healthcare and KORT have partnered with Jefferson County Public Schools to institute a concussion management program for high school athletes. Baseline neurological testing is available to JCPS student athletes, which gives doctors a way to determine when an athlete that has sustained a concussion has fully recovered. During the football season, we offer concussion evaluations at our Saturday morning sports injury clinics. We have enrolled the help of neurologist Dr. Tad Seifert, neurosurgeon Dr. David Sun, and family/sports medicine physician Dr. John Lach to provide these evaluations.
The goal of all of these efforts is to make it safer for our high school athletes so that we may never have to read another article like this one.