Student Athletes and Concussions, Part 1

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BrainNORTHEAST KINGDOM - Vermont high school and college organizations are not "shaking it off" when it comes to student-athletes and concussions.

"The old days, we had absolutely no idea of knowing whether or not someone had a concussion," says Neurologist, Dr. Jean Prunty.

Dr. Prunty who is a trained Medical Doctor that deals with a lot of athletes and concussions, works from her office in Morrisville, Vermont.

The topic of concussions is getting attention from the national level and is trickling down to college and high school sports. Famous athletes like, NHL Ranger's Pat Lafontaine, NHL Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby, and NFL Jets Wayne Chrebet, have all had to end or miss parts of their sports career due to concussions.

Lyndon State College, Athletic Trainer, Evita Sandoval says, "All of those athletes are starting to have issues and they're speaking up about it now. The national level really enforcing that, is really showing our athletes in the college and high school level that, "Hey, it's not a career sport that you are going to play to when you're 90."

Another component that is making concussions a prominent issue in today's "athletic world," is that sports have become more physical, making young athletes more at risk for concussions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a concussion as a brain injury, caused by an impact or a blow to the head.

The CDC also reports that as many as "3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur each year in the United States."

Organizations like the Vermont Principals Association are mandating concussion education.

Vermont Principals Association Member of the Vermont Sports Medicine Committee, and also Blue Mountain Union's Athletic Director, Todd Powers, explains the purpose of the recent Act put into place by the State of Vermont, in regards to Vermont high school sports.

"Act 58 just went into effect July, 1, 2011, and through that Act there is mandated things that each school has to do to make sure that concussion education is in place," says Powers.

Powers breaks down the three main points of the Act.

1.     The Coaches, Athletic Administrations, Student-Athletes, Athletic Trainers and Parents are Educated.

2.     Schools provide all the resources they need (athletic programs) to understand concussions.

3.     To make sure procedures, player guidelines, player protocols are in place, to ensure that athletes are seen by a medical doctor when a concussion or a head injury occurs.

David McGinn, the Athletic Director for St. Johnsbury Academy, and also the Academy's Varsity Baseball Coach says,

"All coaches in the State of Vermont are now required to at least partake in a concussions video that is offered by the National Federation of High School Sports."

Coaches in Vermont Athletic Programs are required to have concussion training every two years and are checked by members of the Vermont Principals Association, to ensure this training is being conducted.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has been enacting guidelines and player protocols for coaches to follow, in order to protect an athlete from returning to play too early.

"The coaches really play a role of a first responder if you will, that when there is anything that is vindictive of a possible head trauma, to observe the athletes demeanor," says McGinn.

Powers explains the overall purpose of the basic guidelines for high school athletic programs dealing with concussions,

"The basic guidelines are when you suspect a concussion, you need to make sure your student is gone through and checked through by a medical professional and that's where their role ends."

Powers emphasized the importance of coaches and athletic administrations, being knowledgeable about concussions, and that ultimately it comes down to the athlete's well being and safety.

"Hopefully this concussion education gives them, walks them through those steps, so when they're in the heat of that moment, they can make the right decision," says Powers. (Powers in regards to coaches and administrations during athletic competitions or practices.)

Dr. Jean Prunty also emphasized that concussion awareness is extremely important and that any head injury is serious.

"A concussion is a concussion and I think that's what people really need to understand the most," says Dr. Prunty.

In years past, as concussion education has been growing, there use to be different levels of concussions. But now doctor's say that even the slightest head injury, if hit again, could be detrimental to a person's life.

Concussion Education does not prevent concussions, but it does reduce the risk of more serious head injuries.

Many organizations are hoping to ensure that athlete's are protected and to give athletes the best life experience possible.

"We're not talking about one game, we're really talking about a student's life," concluded Powers.