Via Christi Sports Medicine manager and athletic trainer Travis Francis served as president of the Kansas Athletic Trainers Society, which pushed through the legislation.
“There was no standardized way of saying, ‘Yes, this athlete is clear and can safely return to play,’ ” says Francis. “And, we were leaving those decisions up to people who potentially were not trained to make them, such as coaches or parents.”
The new law prohibits an athlete suspected of having a concussion from returning to practice or a game the same day in which he or she is injured and requires the athlete to have a physician’s signature before returning to activity. The return must also be on a graduated basis over five to seven days, based on the athlete’s condition.
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury in which a blow to the head or body can cause the brain to strike the inner skull or to rotate, shearing and straining brain tissue. With rest and appropriate treatment, most athletes recover and can return to competition within a few weeks. Athletes who return to competition too soon can face prolonged recoveries or suffer Second Impact Syndrome, a rare but devastating brain injury that can result in death.
Making safety a priority
In Connor’s case, Maize athletic trainer Chris Cannizzo put the sophomore athlete through a concussion test and banned him from returning to the football field until he had been seen by a physician. At the direction of his family physician, Connor took a week off from football and missed the next game, though he did return to finish the season.
Doctors estimate that as many as 30,000 sports-related concussions happen every year and far too many such injuries go unreported.
“If an athlete reports having the symptoms of a concussion, we will start treatment right away. Their concussion likely won’t be as severe … and they absolutely will get back to play sooner if they report it sooner,” says Andrew Porter, DO, assistant director, Via Christi Sports Medicine Fellowship, who strongly encourages athletes to be honest about reporting their symptoms.
Francis, Mark Stovak, MD, medical director of Via Christi Sports Medicine, and James Haan, MD, medical director of Pediatric Trauma at Via Christi, are part of the Kansas Sports Concussion Partnership, a project sponsored by the Kansas Medical Society and the Medical Society of Sedgwick County.
The group educates coaches, athletes and parents on the new law and on how to recognize and deal with head injuries. There will always be those athletes who don’t want to leave the game.
“Those are the scary kids,” says Francis. “They’re late getting off the pile and shake their head a lot. They’ll come off the field and ask what happened on that play … so you just hold them out.”
Connor said his second concussion, suffered while at Maize basketball practice in mid-January, was worse than the first.
“We were practicing hard, so it was physical, and I took an elbow to the head. It knocked me out. I was out before I hit the floor,’’ he recalls. “My coach propped me up and made sure I was OK. I was helped to walk to the trainer’s room. I was really tired and dizzy. My head was throbbing.”
Connor was treated at Via Christi Sports Medicine and barred from playing sports for nearly two weeks. He had to perform a series of graduated running and concussion tests before he was allowed to return to the court — something required under the law.
Connor is planning to play football for Maize again this season — his junior year — but has switched to defense so that he won’t get hit as often as a running back.
“My advice to other student athletes would be to be safe and don’t overdo it” if you suffer a head injury, he says. “Do what they tell you to do and don’t try to do too much too quickly.”