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Concussions Take a Terrible Toll on America's Young Athletes 

Thursday, Aug 18 2011
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Page 6 of 7

Her daughter's head hurt so badly in the next couple of weeks that her bewildered parents called a plumber to check for carbon monoxide leaks in their house. Meyer's coach's solution, according to Mom: "Put a helmet on her. Let her skate through it."

But Meyer's head was too sensitive for her to even bear a helmet. She hasn't played hockey since. A year and a half since that second concussion, Meyer remains hobbled by excruciating headaches and intolerance to noise.

Her ordeal illustrates a debate that's currently occurring in the medical community: How long should a concussed youth sit out before returning to athletic activities?

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"Some people said 10 days, others said three months," says the Texas Medical Center's Jones of information from a medical conference he recently attended. Dr. Ashley sits somewhere in the middle. "We really need to be thinking seriously about waiting at least 30 days until a person with a concussion returns to play."

Those who decide to stick it out may be playing a game that could be significantly altered in the future. Arizona, for example, has considered eliminating kickoffs from high school football because of the dangers inherent when players collide with each other at top speeds.

Other organizations are relying on updated helmet technology to try to prevent concussions. Even though it's impossible to eliminate all head trauma in football, helmet manufacturer Riddell has redesigned and released several types of helmets over the last 20 years.

For the 2011 season, each varsity player for Houston-area football powerhouse Katy High School will don the brand-new Riddell Revolution Speed helmet, which costs $236 to $1,030. The previous version, the Riddell Revolution, helped decrease concussions by more than 300 percent, according to Katy head athletic trainer Justin Landers.

Every summer, as football season approaches, parents desperate for their freshman enrollees to gain competitive advantage call Landers to ask his advice on the types of helmets to buy for their sons. Landers, the son of a helmet salesman, is freaked that these kids will go out on some random field with ill-fitting equipment and hurt themselves.

Landers believes that Texas' recently passed concussion legislation has its shortcomings and that "the judgment call on whether to pull a kid from play won't make the decision any easier. We would look foolish if we were to send a kid to the doctor and he didn't end up having a concussion. That would be a waste of time and money."

Four years ago, Landers told a varsity football player who had suffered a staggering three concussions in five months to go to the doctor toward the end of the regular season. The athlete, a key contributor to the team's playoff push, was deemed unfit to continue playing football.

Though Landers realizes the doctor's decision probably was the right call, he still feels like he screwed up. "I still feel badly because he'll never get to experience what it's like to play in a Texas [high school football] playoff game," he says through teary eyes.

Former hockey player Kayla Meyer, unable to take the clatter of hallways or lunchrooms at her Minneapolis-area school, gets to her classes five minutes late and leaves late as well. She has missed 75 school days in two years. She eats lunch alone. Once a popular girl, she has been abandoned by all but a couple of her friends, so now Meyer mostly hangs out with her mother's friends.

Her plan had always been to become a veterinary technician so that she could take over the family business, a dog kennel on their farm. But now Meyer can't take barking. She can't ride horses because the motion makes her sick. And when reading, she has difficulty processing individual words on a page.

"I have reading glasses, but I always forget them and then I can only stand reading without my glasses for a couple of minutes, before the pain gets too bad," she says.

The Meyers don't have health insurance. Sending their daughter to specialists is leaching the family's finances. Though they try to keep it from her, she's noticed that the ATV and the horse trailer have gone missing, pawned by her parents for cash. Next will be the horses, and one day maybe the farm itself.

There's no end in sight for Meyer's condition. "The physical therapists used to give us targets," Mandy Meyer says. " 'It will be two weeks, two weeks.' Now they don't give her targets, because she's missed so many of them."

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