New test can help protect student athletes when they suffer concussions
Lance Allan, Stephanie Graham, Paul Marble
Lance Allan reportsPhoto: Video by tmj4.com
MILWAUKEE - The recently passed 'Youth Concussion Bill' is one way Wisconsin lawmakers are protecting student athletes. It requires any student athlete suspected of suffering a concussion be removed from the game, and not return until he or she is evaluated by a health care provider. There's also a new test on top of that which can help keep your kids safe.
Sports build camaraderie and friendships, but they don't come without risks. Just ask Waukesha West High School Freshman Trevor Sperbeck. He suffered two concussions this season.
"I hadn't really had a concussion before that, so I didn't really know what it would be like," he admits.
He brushed off the first one.
"A few plays later it went away so I just went back in," he recalls.
The second put him on the sidelines for two weeks. He says, "The ringing in the ears and brightness of the lights wasn't that bad compared to the headaches."
Looking back, his mom Kristine wishes he would have been tested after that first big hit.
"We didn't know. I mean, the headaches went away, it wasn't until that second hit, had he been taken out the first time, he probably would have been back playing within a week," she explains.
There's a new way to test players before they even step foot on the field. It's called baseline testing. Baseline is a computerized test that measures the athlete's cognitive skills.
If an injury occurs, a second test is taken and compared to the first. It helps doctors tell if concussion symptoms exist.
Dr. Michael McCrea is a Neuropsychologist at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, and a Professor at the Medical College. He says, "If a patient is coming to see me and they have baseline tests from prior to their injury, that's an advantage to me as a clinician."
Baseline tests are optional at Trevor's school.
"We had considered having it done, but again, some of these things get put aside and didn't get addressed," Kristine says. She adds, "We've never had a concussion scare before, always meant to have it done and that's our regret."
A regret that could be costly. Concussions are on the rise. A 2010 study by the Journal of Pediatrics found in recent years concussions are up 100% for kids aged 8-13, and up over 200% for older teens.
Dr. Kevin Walter practices Sports Medicine at Children's Hospital, and is an Assistant Professor at the Medical College. TODAY'S TMJ4's Lance Allan asks him, "Are they just being reported more or is that a myth?"
Dr. Walter replies, "They are being reported more, but there are more injuries in my opinion too."
Brad Siggeman still struggles with simple tasks after suffering multiple concussions playing football for Wilmot High School in Kenosha County. His mother Amy says, "He's been having concentration problems in school."
Brad's school district required all athletes get a baseline test prior to playing. She knows Brad would be even worse off if he hadn't had the test, which helped to determine he had to stop playing football for good.
"It should be required. I know it's an expensive program to have. but it's... it could save a kids life," she pleads.
Researchers at Children's Hospital admit baseline tests are only a piece of the puzzle.
"I would caution that its just a tool. It's not the be all end all. It doesn't tell us are you safe or good to go or not," Dr. Walter warns.
That comes down to the trainers and coaches on the frontlines knowing when it's time to pull players from a game--even if they say they feel OK.
Dr. McCrea adds, "Athletes, coaches, parents, school officials are all now well versed on the signs and symptoms of concussion, and they're in a better spot to recognize those signs."
Trevor's happy he can still play, but has a warning for other kids. "If I ever get hit like that again I'll probably either see how it is a few plays later, or go see Missy [his trainer] right away."
Because sitting out those few games could mean a better life on and off the field in the future.
Some schools offer the baseline test, but it's not in all school districts at this point. Some doctors offer it. Children's Hospital of Wisconsin also has it.