Dangerous concussions and high school football
Mychal Shaw and his family pray before his high school football games.
His mother Ryana starts the morning prayer. “We pray that you keep him safe in his football game tonight and let the angels watch over him,” she says.
Shaw suffered a concussion in a game last year. A concussion is a brain injury. Shaw could not walk or speak for a while. He also lost his memory. He had to stop taking two high school classes.
He could not go to his team's games, even to watch. The lights and sound made him uncomfortable.
This season, he’s playing again.
Deadly Second Concussion
People are paying more attention to concussions than ever before.
But what happens next is not so clear. Not everybody agrees on when a high school player is ready to return to the football field after suffering a head injury.
“I think we all worry about sending a kid back out there too soon. Any doctor who says otherwise is lying,” said Greg Canty. He is a sports medicine doctor.
Seventeen high school football players died in 2013.
Doctors said they are even more concerned with “second-impact syndrome.” People can die from the condition. It happens when a player gets a second concussion before the first has healed.
A brain with a concussion is in more danger, Canty said. A second hit could cause a really bad injury, he said.
Kids face the most danger from second-impact syndrome. The reason is that their brains are still growing, says Brett Osborn. He is a brain doctor who has studied concussions in sports.
Staying On The Sideline
Not all high school players with concussions are treated the same.
Brian Mahaffey wrote an article about concussions. He says that high school athletes should be without signs of a concussion for seven days before practicing again. A younger player should wait 10 days, he said.
Osborn thinks children should stay out longer. He says they should not play for at least six weeks after suffering a concussion.
The states aren't so cautious.
Missouri says a player must be out for only 24 hours before being checked out. Kansas has no such law.
Mahaffey suggests to some patients they quit football. The question is when.
Quitting The Game
Barb Kunz's son Alex took a bad hit during practice in 2013.
A day later, Alex was having trouble with easy math. He remembers walking to the cafeteria for lunch feeling confused.
As he sat down for lunch, he shook his two milk cartons. He did this every day. But this time, he had opened the cartons before shaking them. Milk sprayed everywhere.
Alex left school 20 minutes later to see a doctor. He had a concussion, the doctor said.
His mother said he and his brother could never play football again.
In a different game, Liberty High School defender Josh Watson hit a running back, hard. It was on the first play of the 2014 season.
The hit knocked Watson to the ground. He needed help to walk to the sideline.
The team's trainers said Watson had to come out of the game. They thought he might have a concussion.Watson rejoined the team the following Wednesday, after it was decided he did not have a concussion.
More Evidence Needed
Several area high schools in Missouri and Kansas have added a new program. So have some middle schools. Players take a computer test before the season, which gives them a score.
If a player is later thought to have had some sort of head injury, he takes the test again. Then the two scores are compared.
Canty is not sure the tests work. He thinks they can make people feel incorrectly sure that a player is safe. "Many times we need more and better evidence" to be sure, he said.