- Associated Press - Saturday, April 7, 2018

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Sitting in a dark room, after being told to “rest his brain” by Idaho State University athletic trainers, Scott Berger followed what he thought was the best advice for his concussion.

Berger, who played linebacker for the Bengals in the early 1980s , had crashed helmets with a Weber State fullback. After the impact, the next thing Berger remembers is standing in the other team’s huddle and being pulled away by an official.

This particular brain injury was one of three concussions that ended his playing career.

Now Skyline High School’s head football coach, Berger knows that advice and his treatment as an athlete was wrong.

Sitting in a dark room is one of the worst things you can do for a concussion, and it’s this lack of proper concussion education and treatment that cut his career short.

“We didn’t have much of a protocol,” Berger said of concussion treatment 40 years ago. “They would tell you to just, ‘go jog on it.’”

As athletics continues to intensify in high school and youth sports, the importance of concussion protocol and training has heightened despite splintering opinions on both sides. Coaches, and the athletes themselves, typically want players back on the field or court as quickly as possible. Medical professionals want the athletes removed from contact until they are symptom free.

Rigby head football coach Armando Gonzalez said it’s important for coaches to pay heed to medical professionals’ advice.

“I think we want the sport to continue, so by pushing it and pushing the envelope a little bit on our end, as coaches, I think we’re doing the sport and the kids a disservice,” Gonzalez said. “I think the medical professionals are the best people to handle these things.”

Although football gets most of the attention when it comes to concussion news, it’s not the only sport where athletes face concussion risks. The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports the “highest reported incidences of concussion, in descending order, are football, female and male soccer, wrestling, and female basketball.”

Aaron Gardner, pediatrician at Just 4 Kids Urgent Care in Idaho Falls, said coaches and doctors sometimes come at the problem of concussions with conflicting goals.

“Certainly I wouldn’t say we are at odds with each other, we certainly have different priorities,” Gardner said.

Before opening his practice in Idaho Falls, Gardner was a pediatric intensive care specialist at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. He said he’s seen the worst of the worst when it comes to concussions and brain injuries.

Whenever he’s watching his kids’ games, he’s not paying attention to the score or caring who wins or loses. He’s watching out for their safety and health.

His watchful eyes helped treat one of his son’s teammates.

On the sidelines of his son’s football game in Tautphaus Park two years ago, Gardner witnessed a youth league player get tackled and lose consciousness.

The boy remained on the field, surrounded by coaches and team physicians.

“I generally don’t run out on the field,” Gardner said. “I’m an intensive care doctor. Once they start doing CPR then I’ll run out.”

But after five minutes, the boy was still unconscious and Gardner knew something was wrong. He walked over.

“And I said, ‘Is the ambulance on the way’ and they said, ‘No, no we’re just waiting for him to brush it off.’ And for me, again I work on the extreme side, so to me, this is an emergency,” Gardner said.

While Gardner and others in the medical field have tackled the repercussions of concussions in recent years, some athletes hide their symptoms and injuries in order to keep playing.

This choice can be deadly.

Second Impact Syndrome, which is when a person gets a second concussion before their first is healed, has a 50 percent fatality rate, Gardner said.

It’s most common in children and occurs when there is a massive cerebral edema, built up fluid in the brain, that happens when the brain isn’t healed from the first concussion, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health.

The syndrome is rare, but it can kill young, healthy patients in a matter of minutes.

A concussion is defined as a blow to the head followed by a period of amnesia, dizziness, confusion, headache, fatigue, insomnia, irritability or other symptoms. A blow that can lead to a concussion is one where the brain hits the side of the skull on impact.

Concussions, most likely in the case of repeated concussions, can cause lifelong serious implications such as a decline in cognitive abilities, seizures and exertion headaches.

Gardner said it’s hard to draw attention to the importance and severity of concussions because it’s an injury people can’t see. It’s an injury to the brain, encased in your skull, invisible to the human eye.

The annual player death count stemming from spinal cord and brain injuries has increased in recent years, according to CBS News, including high-profile players such as Junior Seau and Aaron Hernandez .

The issue of football-related concussions was again thrust into the spotlight last weekend when former Montana State University star Corey Widmer, who went on to play linebacker for the New York Giants, flew from Australia to Montana to be near the state’s Football Hall of Fame ceremonies in Billings. Widmer had declined enshrinement into the Hall of Fame due to the lack of dialogue over concussions, 406mtsports.com reported.

Widmer told 406mtsports.com executive sports director Jeff Welsch that he can’t in good conscience lend his name to any event related to a sport that has caused great suffering among his friends and he believes is endangering children.

“I can’t even be associated with it. Honest to God, if you gave me a million dollars a year to talk about football, I’d pass it up,” Widmer said.” I could use the money, but I wouldn’t touch it with a thousand-foot pole.”

Mason Price , a two-way football player for the Shelley Russets, suffered a concussion his sophomore year after colliding the crown of his helmet with an opposing player’s helmet during an onside kick. He was then transferred to Idaho Falls to be examined by the team’s trainer. Price sat out for a week and a half.

“This is what they told me: I rolled over and they said my eyes rolled to the back of my head,” Price said. “And then I woke up and had to throw up. I came to the shade and had to close my eyes because I couldn’t stand the brightness.”

Despite this, Andrew Cooper, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, said it’s important not to overblow the risks surrounding concussions. He said it’s all about risk management, and there’s also a risk with not being active.

“Just because you have a concussion doesn’t mean you don’t get to play,” Cooper said. He said there’s a lot of fear with athletes surrounding concussions.

He said concussions are like snowflakes, in that no two are alike, so a concussion that might end an athletic career for one person might not be even a concern for another.

Nonetheless, Cooper stressed that repeated injury to the brain is concerning no matter what, and that concussions should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

He said, on average, most athletes who get concussions will be fine to return to their sport in a week and it’s important to get people with concussions back to their normal routine to heal.

Even though knowledge, research and evidence about the effects of concussions is prevalent, the “win-at-all costs” model still reigns in much of the athletic culture.

“There’s stuff you could do at the lower levels, but I don’t know, they don’t emphasize it (concussion protocols) that much,” Price said. “They just want to win.”


Information from: Post Register, http://www.postregister.com

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