Part 1 of 2 Part Series on Concussion Awareness and Treatment
by Troy Sparks
Any blow to the head, regardless of the force of impact, could lead to something minor like a headache or something major like death.
When that blow disrupts the normal cellular activity in the brain, that is what is called a concussion.
Concussions happen in contact sports such as boxing, soccer, wrestling and hockey, but in most cases, it happens in football.
And the subject of concussion awareness and its short and long-term effects was the topic of discussion in a two-part series that brought some light to a serious medical issue.
Inside the club level suites Skyy Lounge at Miller Park recently, a couple of hundred people attended the three-hour information seminar on sport-related concussions which included remarks from two medical concussion experts, a former Marquette male cheerleader and former Green Bay Packer running back Dorsey Levens.
Levens, like thousands of youths and adults who play football, knows the dangers of suffering from headaches and feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
It has been documented that a football- related concussion could lead to memory loss as players get older or someone taking his own life because it ends the suffering.
An ex-football player in his mid-20s told Levens that his “head hurts all the time. I can’t eat. I can’t think. I can’t sleep.
And I can’t afford to get healthy. And if I can’t get healthy, I’ll take care of it.” That’s the way ex-NFL players Junior Seau and Dave Duerson chose to take care of their miseries.
Neither player shot themselves in the head because it was important to them that their brains get examined to analyze how thousands of repeated contacts over the years going back to youth football could lead to post-concussion issues that included mood swings, erratic behavior and sitting in a dark room to avoid flashes of bright light that could leave them in a dizzying state.
Levens pointed out that former teammate, Packers fullback William Henderson, looked discombobulated in games.
“I don’t know how many times he would come back to the huddle with this look in his eyes,” he said. “And he’s blinking, and he’s trying to get it together.
“And it’s like, ‘C’mon big fella, I need you (to block for me).’ And about once every other game, William would go the wrong way (blocking on a running play). Brett (Favre) would always say, ‘You know that William went the wrong way.’ ”
Henderson, according to Levens, is still dealing with post-concussion issues.
Levens helped produce a film documentary, “Bell Rung,” in which he talked to former players about their experiences with concussions. “I learned how to document concussions in the NFL,” Levens said.
“When you lose track, you don’t think about it. That’s part of the game growing up. You get your bell rung, you get back in the game and that’s it.”
Everyone who’s associated with contact sports, including parents of athletes, must be aware of the concussion symptoms and have a plan in place to deal with it.
Dr. Michael McCrea, Professor and Director of the Brain Injury Research Department of Neurosurgery and Neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, estimated that there are about 3.8 million concussions every year from contact and collision sports.
In the past, a football player who got his bell wrong and felt dizzy sat out for a while and asked to go back in the game.
Now when a football player gets dinged, he isn’t allowed to return to action for the rest of that day and up to two weeks later until all symptoms of a concussion are gone.
After that athlete passes a series of concussion tests and get the medical clearance, he or she can resume competition.
In a recent study, according to McCrea, more than half of the athletes who suffered a concussion during competition (64%) took up to a week to recover from their symptoms. A complete recovery takes about 10 days from the impact of the blow.
McCrea knows how bad a high school football player wants to play in the next game after having his bell rung in a previous game.
He gives that player a 10-day layoff, which may include skipping the next game.
If that player ignores the 10-day order and convince the coach to let him play before the end of the grace period and he has another setback, then the layoff time could be up to 7 or 8 weeks, which ends the season for that player. Coaches, athletic trainers and parents should check for telltale signs of an athlete who leaves the playing area after a hit to the head.
They have to look for a dazed look, a behavioral change and a slow response to any questions they ask him/her, said Kevin Walter, Associate Professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a medical advisor to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.
That athlete with a concussion symptom is removed right away and should be observed for changes in normal habits and routines.
The kid who gets hit from helmet-to-helmet contact or gets driven to the ground head first on a tackle and lies on the ground for a minute because he got the wind knocked out of him gets up, walks to the sideline and calls it a night.
But he comes the following Tuesday, ready to practice so he can play in the next game the following Friday.