Learning how to deal with concussions is part of the game

HealthSportsCollege SportsFootballMedicineWest Broward High SchoolUniversity of Miami

With more than 60 million children playing sports, according to the National Council of Youth Sports, there are bound to be injuries, particularly head injuries.

One of the biggest issues becomes managing and properly treating a concussion if a child is hurt.

Doctors, such as Gillian Hotz, the director of the concussion program at Uhealth Sports Medicine at the University of Miami, stress that parents and coaches need to understand concussion symptoms, and if a child has sustained a head injury, even if it appears minor, it's important to seek medical attention.

But it's not just parents and coaches that need to watch for concussion symptoms. Young athletes themselves need to understand the dangers of hiding potential head injuries from the adults in their lives.

In November, Michelle Roque-Paskow was hit in the jaw while playing in a soccer match for North Broward Prep. After the game, the senior did some research on concussions and suspected she could have suffered one.

Fear of losing her spot in the lineup and letting her teammates down kept her quiet. A few weeks later, another blow to the head left her dizzy. Coaches pulled her from the game and it was then Roque-Paskow spoke up about her previous injury.

"I didn't tell anyone because I didn't want to miss any games, and that ended up being worse because I got elbowed under the eye in another game and I felt horrible," Roque-Paskow said. "Light bothered me. Noise bothered me. I was really dizzy and I had a bad memory. I never knew how serious concussions were. I didn't think they were a big deal, but once you have one, it can really open your eyes to how sensitive your brain is."

Roque-Paskow came back in the spring to play flag football and led her team to the state semifinals. But she says her future play will be intramurals in college with a greater understanding of head injuries.

Elizabeth Roque, her mom, said she was nervous about letting her daughter play flag football, but doctors cleared Michelle after a four-month recovery. That clearance, combined with the family's newly acquired knowledge about head injuries, helped make Michelle's return to play easier.

"These kids want to be the best of the best, and at 17, 18 years old, they think they're invincible. But they're not always given all the information they need to have," Roque said.

Raising awareness

Many of South Florida's concussion experts, such as Hotz and Stephen Russo, the director of Sport Psychology Sports Medicine Clinic at Nova Southeastern, say education has become one of their biggest goals.

Russo believes the benefits of sports — exercise, activity and teamwork — outweigh the negatives of injury, as long parents and athletes are educated about head injuries.

"I just think each kid, each parent, each family needs to go into the process with their eyes open and know that if an injury occurs, there are ways to manage that injury," Russo said. "You don't see people taking their kids out of sports because of ACL injuries, and ACL injuries can be as career-ending as concussions."

Ian Crosbie, a football player at West Broward High, learned about head injuries firsthand when he experienced the effects of a concussion after taking a hit in a game against Miramar High last year.

Coaches immediately rushed to his aid, but as Crosbie came off the field, he was unsure where he was and what was happening around him. A day later, doctors told him he had a concussion. He was sidelined for three weeks and dealt with a number of symptoms, including headaches, slowed reaction time and difficulty concentrating.

He still doesn't remember much about the game, but he says he doesn't plan to quit football. He does, however, know what to do if he's injured in the future.

"I think my teammates get it, but there will always be some kids that I don't think will speak up," Crosbie said. "But you have to tell, every time. You have to think of your future."

Know your symptoms

Each concussion is different and symptoms vary, but if parents see children appearing confused or dazed, or if children have trouble remembering events before or after an injury, it's possible the child could have suffered a concussion.

Other symptoms include loss of consciousness, difficulty thinking clearly, headaches, vomiting, sensitivity to noise or light, and drowsiness. In some cases, a concussion can make children sleepier. Other children might have difficulty sleeping.

"It's important to know how the kid is feeling," Hotz said. "Is he dazed? Is he confused? Is he dizzy? All these things are very important and you see it right away.

"Someone who loses consciousness needs an ER. Someone that has symptoms for a while and the kid is throwing up, get him to the ER. We like to err on the side of sending them. What happens after is that it's important to get into a concussion program."

In light of the increasing research regarding youth concussions, both the state legislature and Broward County schools have taken steps to protect young athletes, including implementing baseline concussion testing locally and writing statewide legislation mandating young athletes are cleared by physicians before returning to play after a concussion.

Concussion awareness is also expected to be a major topic of discussion when American Youth Football League board meets next month. The league is one of the largest in South Florida with more than a dozen teams and hundreds of young athletes ranging in age from 8 to 14 years old.

"I know we plan on doing something in our coaches clinic and we have to stress to all of our coaches and league officials that they need to be aware of what's happening," said AYFL president Ross Sinel. "We know there will be changes. We have to either lead the pack or wait to see what happens. But when you hear some NFL players saying they won't let their kids play football, you know it's something that needs to be dealt with."

For Monarch High soccer coach Steve Lorenc, education and teaching proper technique are key factors in preventing and handling concussions.

"I know this issue is really being pressed in high school sports," said Lorenc, whose daughter, Stephanie, plays soccer at West Boca Raton High School. "Coaches have to go through training to bring it more to light so we have more recognition and know how to evaluate someone and not just put them back in the game.

"It's a matter of taking care of the kids," Lorenc said. "That means the adults have to recognize the problem and take safety factors into concern, do more prevention and intervention instead of abolishing [sports] altogether."

ccabrera@tribune.com, 954-356-4651

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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