Lawrence Memorial Hospital reaches out to young athletes for baseline concussion testing
Steve Malone has sat in the bleachers or stood on the sidelines of his son Jack’s soccer games since Jack was old enough to kick a ball around. In previous seasons, Malone wasn’t too worried about what could happen to his son on the field. The kids were small, he said, and the game was nice.
But now that Jack is 13, that has changed.
“It’s aggressive,” Malone said. “It’s a different kind of game.”
While it’s exciting to see his son going for a header, Malone said he cringes when it happens, especially when there are multiple players going up for the ball at the same time.
To ease some of his worries, Malone took Jack, a member of the Sporting Kaw Valley Jaguars, to the Fourth Street Health Clinic at Lawrence Memorial Hospital on Sunday. The hospital offered baseline concussion testing for a reduced fee to members of Sporting Kaw Valley, which consists of athletes ages 10 to 14.
The computerized test took about 25 minutes, and it asked the players to decipher patterns and shapes to measure their reaction time, concentration and memory. If a player suffers a concussion, this test gives physicians an idea of how the brain is doing compared with its baseline. This helps when determining when to let an athlete return to the field.
LMH began this sort of testing last fall, when it offered the test free of charge to student-athletes at Lawrence High School, Lawrence Free State and Eudora High School.
Later, athletes at Bishop Seabury Academy and Veritas High School were included. The testing on Sunday was the hospital’s first big outreach to younger athletes.
“The younger the skill level, the bigger the concern,” said Luiz Salazar, a physician with Total Family Care. “Not only because they are under-reported, but under-recognized. There’s not enough medical attention and support on the sidelines for this age group. Parents see kids fall down and say it’s fine because they’re acting OK.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children and teens are more likely to get a traumatic brain injury, including concussion, and take longer to recover than adults. Each year, emergency departments in the U.S. treat an estimated 173,285 sports-related brain injuries in people under 19 years old.
Concussion, a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head, can cause brain cells to stretch and tear. When an athlete suffers a concussion, the brain needs time to heal. If a player returns to the field too soon and has a repeat concussion, it can slow recovery or increase the chance for long-term problems.
“These are young kids, and they’re playing a lot,” said Marcus Dudley, executive director of Sporting Kaw Valley. “We want to make sure parents and coaches are aware, so as not to rush anybody back or do something foolish that may hurt them.”
What to look for
Mikey Lopez, a midfielder for Sporting KC, made an appearance at the group testing on Sunday. He signed autographs and talked with parents about the importance of baseline testing for soccer athletes.
Though football is the most common sport for brain injuries, Salazar explained, soccer is a close second, and it can happen in any sport.
Lopez underwent baseline concussion testing in high school, college and now as a professional athlete.
“It’s very important for every athlete; it doesn’t matter what level you’re at,” Lopez said. “We use our heads for a lot of things in soccer. It could mess you up pretty badly, so it’s good to know that you shouldn’t try to tough through it, and to know that things like headaches could potentially be bad.”
While Lopez signed autographs for the young athletes Sunday, parents questioned Salazar about what they should look for when determining whether their children have suffered a concussion.
Some symptoms, Salazar said, are headaches, confusion and difficulty paying attention. Salazar also said there is a lot of false information regarding concussions, such as the misconception that there is always a loss of consciousness.
“If that’s the information we’re giving to our coaches, that’s scary,” he said.
In Douglas County, baseline concussion testing is available at Eudora Family Care, Family Care of Tonganoxie, Mount Oread Family Care and Total Family Care at LMH for a $25 charge. Athletes affiliated with Sporting Kaw Valley may receive the testing at any time for a reduced fee of $15.
Steve Malone said he would be taking Jack back for the test on an annual basis. It is especially important as Jack gets older and the game gets tougher, he said.
“Soccer is his passion, his love, his life,” Malone said. “He is incredibly motivated, and we’ll continue to test him more, especially when he’s older. It’s a nice thing to do with him to reinforce preventative behavior and to recognize that this stuff is serious.”