The impact of concussions on high school athletes


By Tim Mandell - The Rural Blog



Dr. Andy Gilliland, a sports medicine specialist who does baseline concussion tests for 26 local high school football teams in eastern Kentucky, has diagnosed 43 concussions this season, Ben Nandy reports for The Daily Independent in Ashland as part of a series on concussions and high school athletes.

“A baseline test measures a player’s mental processing, concentration and memory prior to the season. Following any hard impact to the player’s head during the season, the test is administered again and the results compared to baseline results from before the season. If the results of the latest test show a decline in brain function, the player may be diagnosed with a concussion and temporarily sidelined to avoid a second hit, which could do irreversible damage.”

Gilliland said “he has seen a significant change in attitudes toward head injuries,” Nandy writes. He told Nandy, “Two years ago, we were in the midst of the fight. Now, I don’t see any culture of negativity in schools around here. We sense a culture change is taking place…There was a reactive stance before. Everyone’s proactive now. What we started doing five years ago is becoming the standard worldwide.”

It’s not just full-contact sports like football that need to be more aware of concussions but all sports activities, Nandy writes in another story for the series. Last year Whitney Nicole Porter, a high school cheerleader in Ashland, suffered a concussion after a fall, leading to new rules this year requiring cheerleaders to go through “the same concussion testing and protocol that have been required of football players for the last four seasons.”

During a basketball game, Porter “went into a backflip and snagged her foot on another cheerleader’s arm, causing Porter to fall about five feet with her face hitting the gym floor,” Nandy writes. “Porter’s injury was difficult to treat since she did not take a comprehensive baseline concussion test before the season. She did not have baseline results for brain function, which could have been compared to results from a similar test taken after the injury. After the more obvious outward symptoms (vomiting, dizziness and slurred speech) of a concussion subsided, Porter was medically cleared to return to cheerleading. But soon after her return, it became frighteningly apparent to Porter and her family that her brain had not completely healed.”

Her mother Eva Porter told Nandy that Whitney had “mood swings, difficulty sleeping and depression.” While Porter returned to the squad this fall and says she feels “normal” again, her mother hopes the school’s “new baseline testing policy becomes the norm for cheerleaders nationwide.”

The Rural Blog is published by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

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By Tim Mandell

The Rural Blog

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