Cheap Seats: Carroll Group Studies Concussion Awareness
By Danielle Chazen
After the results of a study about high school concussions became viral, many legislators and administrators began taking action and raising awareness about concussion management and prevention. The study, published in 2009, indicated that after receiving a concussion, 41 percent of high school athletes returned to play before their brains were given a chance to heal.
These findings, coupled with research conducted on former NFL athletes that suffered permanent damage from concussions, prompted the Maryland House and Senate to write concussion bills, which Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law in May 2011.
With new legislation in place and a strong desire to raise awareness about concussions and prevention, an informal steering committee was established in Carroll County.
A panel of key players, including Dr. Samuel Matz, the chief team physician at McDaniel College and Mount St. Mary's University, and Jim Rodriguez, Carroll County supervisor of athletics, began holding monthly meetings more than one year ago, before the bill was even passed. The steering committee met to discuss ways to establish a protocol for managing and preventing concussions in student-athletes.
The committee used a model program that Mike Williams, Howard County athletics program coordinator, had previously established as a basis of the Carroll County program.
Matz said he commended the efforts of Williams and those in the Carroll County community that proactively began seeking resources to protect Carroll County youth from a debilitating medical condition before the law mandated it.
"The purpose of our meetings was to establish a protocol and raise awareness about concussions and their effects," Matz said. "In the old days, you would get dinged up and go right back in, but many are not aware of second-impact syndrome, where the brain gets shocked a second time before the brain has healed, and the damage can be permanent."
As an orthopedic doctor and team physician, Matz has witnessed concussions for 25 years and brought management techniques and experience to the table.
"If someone sprains an ankle, you can see the swelling, and it takes a couple of weeks or months to be normal again," Matz said. "But when someone bruises their brain with a concussion, you can't see the damage. We want to educate people. Just because a kid feels good and looks good, it's not enough for that child to go back into a game."
Matz said with regard to concussions, he lived by the motto, "When in doubt, sit 'em out."
One of the main branches of the program involves having students take tests at the beginning of the sports season to establish brain function at a baseline. The results of these tests are then used for comparison should a student receive a concussion, and are a strong basis for judging when the athlete has healed enough to gradually return to play.
Athletic trainers have also become highly involved in the course of concussion management, serving as the front line for diagnosis and then referring the child to a doctor.
Carroll County works mainly with Dr. Gerard Gioia of Children's National Medical Center and Dr. Chris Vaughan, a pediatric neuropsychologist, as concussion consultants to evaluate each athlete's status.
The program requires that parents sign off on understanding concussions and their effects. Matz said the press surrounding concussions in the NFL had made parents and coaches receptive to the program.
"Another key mission is to educate teachers and administrators to have a system in place to make academic accommodations when a student receives a concussion," Carroll County's Rodriguez said.
The topic of concussions became an even more personal matter for Rodriguez when his own daughter, a student at Westminster High School, suffered a concussion playing volleyball eight months ago. Rodriguez said his daughter had suffered from terrible headaches for seven months after the concussion.
"I really got to see the impact a concussion can have on a child," he said. "It personalized the whole process and really hit home."
His daughter's concussion also allowed him to understand how a child's academics are affected.
"My daughter had a heavy course load, stress and was taking a high-level Spanish course, which makes your brain think differently," Rodriguez said. "Doctors encourage you to rest the brain, so she had to do things like take breaks in class and decrease her computer and texting use."
Rodriguez said the committee and school administrators were currently working on developing a plan for management when a concussion occurred outside of school athletics.
"Whether it be in phys ed or outside activities, we have to adapt to make sure kids' well-beings are taken care of," he said.
Rodriguez and Matz both emphasized that the takeaway message was awareness.
"This is a serious issue," Rodriguez said, "and we need to dissuade people from taking on old-school mentalities. People need to be aware of the lasting effects of concussions and second-impact syndrome. This is the brain. It's not an ankle, and it can affect you for your entire life if you don't take care of it."
More Cheap Seats:
• Stettinius Aims For Olympic Gold In Little-Known Pentathlon Events
• Carroll Group Studies Concussion Awareness
• Darren's Dream Comes True In Loyola Victory
• Lacrosse Excellence Is Ian Shure's Goal
• Campbell Sees Better Future For Mustangs
• Heist Is No Shakespeare, But He Has Writing Prize
Issue 175: July 2012