Rule aimed to protect athletes with head injuries
August 18, 2009 · Updated 12:30 AM
Plateau area youth, middle and high school athletes, coaches and parents will find more information, training and paperwork awaiting them as they head back to the field, golf course, gymnasium and pool today, Wednesday, and Monday for the start of fall sports practice.
In May, Washington state passed the Zackery Lystedt Law, said to be the nation’s toughest return-to-play law. It requires medical clearance of youth athletes under the age of 18 suspected of sustaining a concussion before they can be sent back into a game, practice or training.
Student athletes, parents and coaches will have to educate themselves on the signs and symptoms of a concussion and sign a form acknowledging they are aware of the potential dangers of a concussion and understand the rules.
“We’ve always taken a conservative view,” Sumner School District Athletic Director Tim Thomsen said, referring to past practices. “These are things we’ve been doing for a long time; now it’s formalized. It’s not very different than what we’ve been asking our coaches to do in the past.”
“It’s not just a bump on the head,” Enumclaw High Athletic Director Kevin Smith said. “A student athlete would have to display signs of a concussion.”
But, any indication of trouble will likely sideline an athlete, and in every sport – golf, cheer, tennis, swimming – not just contact sports.
“It’s for everybody,” White River High Athletic and Activities Coordinator Chris Gibson said.
“Even though most concussions are mild, all concussions are potentially serious and may result in complications including prolonged brain damage and death if not recognized and managed properly,” the Enumclaw School District noted in its new forms. “In other words, even a “ding” or a bump on the head can be serious. You can’t see a concussion and most sports concussions occur without loss of consciousness.”
“When in doubt, the athlete sits out,” noted the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
“That first hit makes your brain so vulnerable,” Smith said. “A second hit can be so minor, but can cause so much damage.”
That’s where the law got its start.
In 2006, Zackery Lystedt, a Seattle-area middle school student, took a hard hit during a football game. He never lost conciousness, returned to the game and later collapsed. Brain surgery saved his life, but he had to relearn basic tasks like swallowing and talking and remains in a wheelchair.
According to the WIAA, any athlete suspected of suffering a concussion should be removed from the game or practice immediately. No athlete may return to activity after an apparent head injury or concussion, regardless of how mild it seems or how quickly symptoms clear, without medical clearance. Close observation of the athlete should continue for several hours.
A youth athlete who has been removed from play may not return to play until the athlete is evaluated by a licensed health care provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussion and receives written clearance to return to play from that health care provider.
“They’re very clear on who has authority to clear an athlete,” Gibson said. “It takes the onus off the coaches. It takes the judgment call out of the picture.”
The list of those qualified to make the call include medical doctors, a doctor of osteopathy, advanced registered nurse practitioner, physicians assistant and a licensed certified athletic trainer. They key is those health care providers are trained in the evaluation and management of concussion.
In the Sumner district, the training and awareness extends to community youth sports organizations that use its facilities. Thomsen said, for example, youth football teams who use Sunset Chev Stadium have had to put their coaches, parents and athletes through the same process. By starting early, he’s hoping concussion awareness becomes part of the culture.
“The purpose is to try and prevent future injury to an athlete,” he said.
White River and Enumclaw will also have similar policies.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Symptoms may include:
• “Pressure in head”
• Nausea or vomiting
• Neck pain
• Balance problems or dizziness
• Blurred, double, or fuzzy vision
• Sensitivity to light or noise
• Feeling sluggish or slowed down
• Feeling foggy or groggy
• Change in sleep patterns
• “Don’t feel right”
• Fatigue or low energy
• Nervousness or anxiety
• More emotional
• Concentration or memory problems
Repeating the same question/commen
Signs observed by teammates, parents and coaches include:
• Appears dazed
• Vacant facial expression
• Confused about assignment
• Forgets plays
• Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
• Moves clumsily or displays incoordination
• Answers questions slowly
• Slurred speech
• Shows behavior or personality changes
• Can’t recall events prior to hit
• Can’t recall events after hit
• Seizures or convulsions
• Any change in typical behavior or personality
• Loses consciousness