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After multiple concussions, Derek Crouch decides to put football behind him as he heads off to college.
By Shannon Kirshner | STAFF
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Hard-hitting truth about concussions
By Dean Olsen

Derek Crouch caught five passes and gained 62 yards for Chatham Glenwood in the Titans' upset loss to Lincoln High School on Oct. 3, but the senior wide receiver felt no disappointment when he was walking off the field with a teammate after the game.

"I asked him who won and what the score was," Crouch said.

The teammate realized something was wrong and brought his friend - who is nicknamed "Wild Man" because of his near-constant enthusiasm - to an athletic trainer and the team physician.

Though he didn't take any unusually hard hits, Crouch, 17, apparently suffered a concussion sometime during the game - an injury that erased his knowledge of the contest and, for a few hours, removed his memory of the entire 2008 football season.

Crouch's concussion was recognized, reported quickly and treated seriously. But that's often not the case in a nation where as many as half of the 1.5 million high school football players each year suffer concussions that go unnoticed or unreported by athletes who lack understanding of the symptoms or worry about being perceived as weak.

A growing number of doctors and public-health officials are promoting more awareness of concussions in young athletes - especially the mild ones in which there's no loss of consciousness or nausea.

"Everybody always knew about concussions," said Dr. H. Dennis Mollman, a neurosurgeon with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. "But we didn't realize how dangerous they could be."

Crouch hadn't lost consciousness during his recent concussion, and a scan of his brain didn't reveal any damage, but the injury - his third concussion as a high school football player - still causes him headaches and problems concentrating.

Mollman told Crouch that playing football again would put him at risk of serious, permanent brain damage.

"It crushed me, because it's always been my dream to continue playing football in college," said the 170-lb., 5-foot-8 Crouch.

But the honor-roll student wants to go to college and become a physical therapist. Neither he nor his mother argued with Mollman when it came to his football future.

"It's not worth it in the long run," Crouch said.

Football, ice hockey and soccer are the sports with the highest risk and highest number of concussions, experts say.

A collision with another player may be blunted by a helmet but still can cause the brain, which is suspended in fluid, to lurch forward even after the impact pushes the skull in another direction. The brain squashes against the skull, and brain cells can be damaged or destroyed.

Concussions typically don't show up on a scan, and there's no blood test to detect them. To properly diagnose them and gauge their severity, a doctor must consider the patient's medical history, go through a checklist of symptoms and perform a detailed examination, according to Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and co-director of the Neurologic Sports Injury Center at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"Ninety-plus percent of all concussions happen without any loss of consciousness," he said.

The biggest danger after a concussion is returning to play too soon, when another concussion can trigger brain damage that permanently impairs an athlete's memory and mental functioning, he said.

The treatment for a concussion, he said, "is rest, both physical and intellectual."

High school athletes, because of their age, face the greatest risk of long-term damage, and yet more than half of all high schools lack access to athletic trainers, Cantu said.

In Illinois, programs to detect concussions vary by school, but the Illinois High School Association, which recently has focused on implementing a random drug-testing program for athletes in state series competitions, plans to offer more education about concussions in the future.

"The next battleground for us will be head injuries," said Kurt Gibson, an IHSA assistant director.

Crouch, the Chatham Glenwood player, said he knows of Chatham and Lockport players who have ignored possible concussions.

"They will say, 'Man, my head's killing me,' and 'I'm kind of woozy, but I made the tackle, so I'm going back in there,'" he said. "I don't think there's any way to change that ... unless they realize what the consequences will be in the future." 




What is it? A blow to the head that causes the brain to shake inside the skull and result in even a brief and mild alteration in brain function is considered a concussion.

Symptoms: headache, dazed or vacant expression, confusion, difficulty with balance and coordination skills, nausea, amnesia, slurred or inappropriate speech, loss of consciousness, double or blurred vision, forgetting play responsibilities, sleep difficulties, unusual sadness and depression.

Management: Any athlete suspected of concussion should be removed from the game or practice immediately and shouldn't return - no matter how mild the symptoms - without medical clearance.

Prevention: Make sure helmets are fitted properly and regularly sent for inspection or reconditioning. Football players should be taught not to initiate contact using the helmet.

Returning the athlete to participation: New guidelines recommend monitoring the course of symptoms and beginning a gradual return-to-play protocol when all symptoms have cleared.

More information: www.keepyourheadinthegame.org and http://tinyurl.com/concussiontoolkit.

Source: National Federation of State High School Associations.


Story published Friday, December 5, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 7 )

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