Westchester County High Schools Sports Programs Confront Concussion Issue

In an interesting article in the Journal News in December of 2014, the issue of the how local Westchester County high schools respond to concussions suffered by young athletes was analyzed. Dr. Mark Herceg, the director of Neuropsychology at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, was interviewed to discuss what the proper protocol should be when a player suffers head trauma and a concussion is suspected, in the course of a football game, for example. It is Dr. Herceg’s opinion that the correct approach to begin with is that all high schools should have a full time athletic trainer and sideline testing.

Dr. Herceg discussed the case of a local high school football player (for privacy reasons the student’s name was not disclosed) who suffered a concussion on the first day of practice. He was told to go home, without any further testing, returned to practice the next day, and had another concussion on the second day of practice. The next day, amazingly enough, he was allowed to practice again, and suffered a third concussion, which necessitated a trip to the emergency room. Despite the overwhelming and thorough coverage of the one billion dollar settlement that the NFL has entered into with former players suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, ALS, mood disorders and a whole variety of other devastating effects of traumatic brain injuries suffered during the course of their careers, it would appear that the seriousness of the traumatic brain injury issue is not being heard at the high school level.

New York State requires only that an athlete suspected of suffering a concussion be removed from play, and that coaches, school nurses and athletic trainers take an online course on concussions. However, there is no state requirement that “pre-injury cognitive testing”, or post injury sideline testing be performed on athletes, nor that school districts employ part time or full time athletic trainers. In the Westchester County town of North Salem and the City of Peekskill, for example, their high schools have no part time or full time athletic trainers.

Concussion symptoms include:
Temporary loss of consciousness;
Amnesia regarding the incident;
Nausea and vomiting;
Slurred speech;
Difficulty sleeping;
Loss of balance;
Unsteady walking, among others.

Many high schools utilize a cognitive test called ImPACT, which is a neurocognitive computerized exam, given pre-injury to all athletes who play contact sports. The test is then given post traumatic brain injury to compare and determine if there are cognitive changes. Additionally, sideline testing includes the King-Devick and Standardized Assessment of Concussions, which test athletes for quick recall of numbers or words. According to Dr. Herceg, concussions can last for months in 10-15 percent of cases, and often the wait for improvement in the athlete’s condition can be as stressful as the original effects of the concussion, causing additional depression and anxiety. Dr. Herceg noted that had the athlete who suffered the three concussions been taken out of action after the first one, he could have returned to play much sooner. However, in that particular case, the athlete missed two thirds of the season due to lingering symptoms from the concussion. Another issue seems to be the players’ lack of candor about the symptoms they are experiencing (they want to try to “play through it”) in order to get back on the field more quickly. Certainly the culture of pushing players to play through injuries is under serious question in light of the serious long term effects of concussions and traumatic brain injury as emphasized tragically in the suicides of former stars Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, among others.

If you or a loved one have suffered a traumatic brain injury or significant injuries in a car crash, construction accident, trip and fall or suffered injury due to a defective product, contact the Law Office of Mark A. Siesel online or toll free at 888-761-7633 for a free consultation with an experienced trial attorney to discuss the specifics of your case in detail.