- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

MERIDEN, Conn. (AP) - When Greg Ferry played football at Cheshire High School in the early-to-mid 1990s, the potential long-term health risks associated with concussions were not known as they are today.

“I look back on me as an athlete in high school and college and we weren’t tracking and charting it,” said Ferry, the current Southington High School athletic director. “We’re doing a much better job understanding and getting the information out … I’m pleased with where we’ve come with this.”

School districts around the state are now tracking student concussions after a state law requiring the information went into effect in July 2014. The mandate requires schools to record each concussion, the circumstances in which the injury occurred and how long students were out of school. If a concussion happened outside of school but a doctor diagnoses the concussion and sends a note to the school to excuse an absence, the concussion is recorded. The data is then sent to the state Department of Education.

Data collected for schools across the state showed Cheshire students suffered the fifth most concussions of any school district with 121 during the 2014-15 school year. Fairfield had the highest number, with 434 diagnosed concussions. In the area, Southington reported 114 diagnosed concussions; Meriden reported 54; and Wallingford reported 91.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a “bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works.” Concussions can also occur from a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth, according to the agency. While they can have short-term effects, more recent research shows severe or repetitive concussions can result in long-term brain injuries.

With the exception of Southington, a majority of diagnosed concussions in the area occurred outside of school. There were 77 concussions outside of school in Cheshire; four in Meriden; 38 in Wallingford; and 40 in Southington. The bulk of concussions in Southington occurred during interscholastic athletics, with 45 diagnosed cases.

In the area, athletic directors within the school system handle data collection of concussions that occurred during any sport. Because the data reported to the state accounts for every concussion reported from the school system, typically a nurse will handle the data collection.

One possible reason behind the numbers in the data can be the awareness of concussions, according to Kathy Neelon, the nurse coordinator in Wallingford.

“It’s being diagnosed more readily now than in the past because people are looking for it, which is a great thing,” said Kathy Neelon, Wallingford’s nurse coordinator.

In most Wallingford cases, the concussions were resolved within a week to 14 days, Neelon said. The statistic remained true throughout the area.

In Cheshire, 106 of 121 students diagnosed with a concussion missed less than five days of school, although one student missed more than 120 school days. Southington had 41 of 114 students diagnosed miss less than five days and 38 of 91 in Wallingford. Meriden school officials did not report the length of time missed from school, according to Abbe Smith, director of communications at the state Department of Education.

While there were 91 concussions in Wallingford, Neelon said she didn’t find the number concerning because of the size of the school system. Wallingford has over 6,000 students enrolled, Neelon said.

“We just started collecting the data and physicians are also diagnosing it more. I wouldn’t say it’s alarming; it’s something we see like other things, like colds and viruses,” she said. “… Do I think 90 concussions is great? No, zero would be great, but it’s unrealistic when students are participating in activities in school and out of school.”

Neelon said she will continue to monitor the concussion data, adding modifications can be made if children are getting hurt in the same activity.

Michael Grove, the associate superintendent for finance and administration in Meriden, echoed Neelon, adding the first batch of data represents a baseline to be compared to future years.

“We’re just starting to gather the data. It’s something new to the district and it’s something we’ll watch over the years and how we’re trending, especially in secondary schools,” Grove said. “Right now, for the first year’s data, I’m not concerned.”

Wallingford’s Board of Education formally adopted a new policy and regulation for concussion management for student sports at meeting on Monday night. Despite this, Neelon said there has been a concussion protocol in place in the school system for years.

“We use the same tool that the CDC puts out, where we assess the student right after the concussion,” Neelon said, adding if the student exhibits symptoms, they’re referred to a doctor. “… They’re evaluated by a physician and it’s determined based on the symptoms. The only way you can determine if there is a concussion is based on symptoms.”

Coaches also receive education and training on concussions in the area school systems. Some school systems also require a parent to sign a document saying they received and read information on concussions before their child can participate in a sport.

There is an emphasis to keep coaches and trainers up to date on training and to get as much information out to parents and student athletes as possible.

“We’re constantly educating our parent groups (in Southington), our coaches and student athletes,” Ferry said. “We’re doing a lot to really educate and we’re ahead of the curve.”

The data will continue to be monitored by legislative committees, according to State Sen. Danté Bartolomeo, who is also the chairwoman of the Committee on Children. The data will inform the committee if and where changes are needed, Bartolomeo said.

“Our hope is education will lead to prevention or early identification. We need to look at those trends,” said Bartolomeo, who introduced the concussion legislation with Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington. “… We will continue to look at the data and think of the best way to protect youth athletes.”

While Bartolomeo said she believed the number of concussions reported around the state was a concern, she added she was unsure if the numbers would increase or decrease in the future.

Whether or not changes occur at the state level, they can still happen at the local level if school officials deem necessary. Neelon noted more information is being learned about concussions each year, which could result in changes to law and local regulations and policies. Any attention on concussions, she said, is important.

“It’s good to be looking at that because of the heightened awareness of this issue now,” Neelon said. “It’s an evolving science. We’re learning more and more about concussions. We’re getting good at diagnosing them more and tending to treat them.”


Information from: Record-Journal, https://www.record-journal.com

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