Districtwide plan treats trauma

Protocol intends to thwart long-term brain injuries

By Robert Clinton, Sports Editor

With information regarding concussions becoming more abundant than ever before, the Contra Costa Community College District has implemented a new districtwide concussion protocol that spans across all sports.
The electronic test establishes a baseline of cognitive brain function before the season begins. If a concussion occurs, the player is re-tested and the results are compared to the previous test, Athletic Trainer Mikel Jackson said.
Testing is timed and includes sections on memory function, pattern recognition and problem solving.
The purpose of the test is to determine the severity of a concussion injury and monitor recovery. It is designed to take the guesswork out of return-to-play decisions, Jackson said.
The Journal of Sports medicine lists football as the sport with the most concussions for high school athletes, with 64 athletes suffering concussions per 100,000 games. Surprisingly, women’s soccer was fifth on the list, following ice hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse, with 34.
“Concussions will be a reality until people stop doing things that crash the brain into the skull,” Jackson said.
According to information provided by the Mt. Diablo Memory Center, as many as 20 percent of athletes involved in contact sports will sustain a concussion during their careers. Only 10 percent result in loss of consciousness.
A concussion causes a wide array of symptoms and may include loss of memory, dizziness, confusion, headaches and nausea.
Each student-athlete in the CCCCD receives an information packet from the Center for Disease Control which explains why reporting potential concussions is so important.
The information states, unlike with some other injuries, playing or practicing with concussion is dangerous and can lead to a longer recovery and a delay in an athlete’s return to play.
It also details the importance of reporting concussions and the dangers involved with ignoring symptoms.
A concussion can affect a student-athlete’s ability to do schoolwork and other activities.
For student-athletes, the time it takes to recover from a concussion can ruin an entire semester.
Comet baseball player Geo Argenal suffered a concussion last spring after being inadvertently hit in the head with a ball during practice.
“I couldn’t go to school and I had constant headaches. It went on for three to four months,” he said. “There were also behavioral changes. Everything irritated me, lights bothered me, just people talking — everything.”
The stress does not end with the medical symptoms. Student-athletes have to petition to get an academic and athletic year back with a medical exemption.
Since its implementation at the start of the fall, the program has seen many athletes complete the process from testing to doctor visits to eventually returning to action, Jackson said.
Acute Concussion Evaluation (ACE) is first given to athletes suffering from concussion symptoms.
It asks for injury characteristics, cause and if there was loss of consciousness.
Jackson said students are then asked to fill out a symptom checklist which identifies 25 ailments ranging from physical, cognitive, emotional and sleep disruption. Risk factors are weighed checking concussion history, developmental and psychiatric history.
Last is a list of red flag symptoms for emergency hospitalization like seizures or repeated vomiting.
The program requires a player to go through multiple stages of recovery before returning to the field of play.
Five days of running, workouts and non-contact practice must be completed without exhibiting symptoms, followed by a final physician’s OK, are required before an athlete may return to the field, Jackson said.
Advances in technology make concussion detection more accurate, but instituting those technologies take funding.
“If this were the Southeastern Conference (SEC), we’d have monitors in the players’ helmets that measure impact and send real time information to the trainers,” Jackson said. “Follow the money. It’s about how much you can afford to pay for preventative care.”
Even with the help of modern technology, trainers agree there is something to be said about building personal relationships with the athletes and understanding when they might not be able to play.
“Holding a player out solely because they didn’t pass a computer test is questionable,” Los Medanos College Athletic Trainer Brian Powelson said. “I’m more interested in the personal aspect than a computer variation.”
Testing provides another tool to keep athletes safe, so Powelson embraces the plan. It being compatible with the student-athlete’s insurance program and part of the coverage package makes it a must, he said.