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Concussions create cause for concern

Testing at Del Oro is among first in state
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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"Your thinking is fuzzy. Your vision is fuzzy. It's almost like coming out of anesthesia," recalls Mike Lamb about sustaining concussions during his football career.

Lamb played college football at the University of Southern California and is all too familiar with the devastation some hits can cause. His son, Logan Lamb, a senior at Del Oro High School, also plays football.

Lamb has paid close attention to reports on recent studies that found the risk of death and permanent brain damage is much higher after a second concussion, while an athlete is still recovering from a first. After growing concern, Lamb decided to do what he could to protect his son and other high school athletes from Second Impact Syndrome.

Play it Safe

As Vice President of Wells Fargo Insurance Services, he was excited when the company decided to partner with the California Interscholastic Federation and ImPACT Concussion Testing. Wells Fargo Senior Vice President, John Breckenridge, wanted his alma mater, Del Oro to be become one of the first schools in California to implement the Play It Safe Program. With his son playing there, Lamb was on board.

Play It Safe uses a cognitive test, also administered in professional sports like the National Football League, to establish a baseline for each player prior to having a concussion. After receiving a head injury or concussion, the player is re-assessed to see where they are at in comparison to their baseline. The results are used to determine if the athlete is healthy enough to continue playing.

"As a parent it takes some of the fear away that something is going to happen to your son," Lamb said. "If you have a concussion and you let it heal, you will be fine by and large. The danger is when you talk second impact syndrome, which can cause permanent brain damage."

Just what the doctor ordered

Dr. Tobias Paiva, an internal medicine physician for Sutter Medical Group in Auburn is fellowship trained in sports medicine. He said Second Impact Syndrome is definitely a concern for athletes in full-contact sports like football. Over the years, doctors have gained more insight into the real dangers of concussions.

"It is a pretty well-documented concept. When a player has not fully healed from the first hit or impact it can create a physiological mix-up with some of the cells in the brain. It's pretty traumatic and can even cause death," Paiva said. "Now we take more of a proactive approach and are sitting kids out if there is an possibility they have a concussion."

After an athlete sustains a condition Paiva recommends they take a break from all cognitive and physical activities, which for student athletes includes school work. According to Paiva, long-term effects of multiple head injuries can be seen in former NFL players, some of whom have personality changes, depression and earlier dementia.

"The only appropriate course of action I know of is absolute cognitive and physical rest," Paiva said.

Paiva said coaches and parents should be aware that hits to the head are not the only impact that can cause a concussion or head injury. Contact anywhere on the body can trigger a concussion. Athletes should be monitored for any changes in behavior or cognition.

"You can kind of see it in their eyes," Paiva said. "They could kind of see, 'this kid isn't acting right.'"

Establishing a baseline, the more thorough the better, is also a good idea, according to Paiva.

Since football practice started this summer Travis Nelson, a physician's assistant at Sutter Auburn Orthopedics, said he has noticed a rise in student athletes being seen for injures. Of those, the greatest number are football players, according to Nelson.

"In Auburn we see a lot of kids come in from Del Oro, Colfax and Placer," Nelson said. "Football by far has the highest number of injuries. They actually had a study that came out. For players 6-17 years of age there has been a 26 and a half percent increase in their emergency injury treatment."

Lamb said he has noticed contact get more intense, at earlier ages in football. That has created the need for more regulations pertaining to injuries.

Breaking ground, saving lives

The CIF agrees with Lamb and Paiva that second-impact concussions are cause for concern. They created a new rule in 2010 stating that any player suspected of sustaining a concussion during a game or practice has to sit out the rest of the day. Athletes aren't free to play again until they have been evaluated and cleared by a doctor.

Del Oro finished its baseline testing Aug. 18. Wendy O'Sullivan, who has had two sons play for the Golden Eagles, said she thinks the testing is a necessity in football and would like to see it extend to other contact sports. Her oldest son, Cody, sustained two concussions during his football career.

"I swore that if there was ever another head injury that we would get him immediately seen by a doctor and we would only move forward then," O'Sullivan said.

After Cody's second concussion she took him to the emergency room. Without a baseline, she received conflicting advice from medical experts, friends and other resources about when it would be safe for him to play again.

"Some people said, 'he should never play football again.' Some said 'he should wait two weeks,'" O'Sullivan said. "There was no clear cut way for us to handle it."

She is thankful ImPACT Testing will establish some kind of a standard.

O'Sullivan also takes photos of the team at every game. She even offered to donate the proceeds from her photography to starting the Play It Safe Program at Del Oro. While her donation ultimately wasn't needed, she hopes the program will help her son Nick, a senior running back and linebacker, lower his risk of a serious injury. She said in the past she has seen many boys try to return to a game or practice before they have healed.  

"Bless them, they are boys, full of testosterone and they get back up and go back in," O'Sullivan said.

While she never wants to keep her sons from playing the sport they love, O'Sullivan said she will be a little more at ease watching her son on the field this season.

"As they get older it gets harder for Mom to watch. My son will be the one out there that everyone is trying to beat up and take down," O'Sullivan said. "It's such a great sport and it's such a violent sport. (ImPact testing) probably could have helped us before."

Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com.