Youth concussions 'epidemic' more dangerous than previously thought

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on September 20, 2011 at 10:25 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 20 at 10:26 PM

The danger signs of concussion
Source: CDC
1:
Headache that gets worse and does not go away
2:
Weakness, numbness or decreased coordination
3:
Repeated vomiting or nausea
4:
Slurred speech
5:
A child who will not stop crying and cannot be consoled
6:
A child who will not nurse or eat

KELLER — Under the glare of Friday night lights, the pressure to win can be blinding.

Sixteen-year-old Jarrod Snell, a JV quarterback at Keller High School, remembers it well — until the last game he played, on September 16 last year.

"Nope. I don't remember anything," Jarrod said. "I remember going off to practice and I can't remember anything after that."

While Jarrod can't recall anything about that game, in which he was hit multiple times... or his life immediately afterward... his mother said she will never forget it.

"The game was over," Mary-Ann Snell recalled. "We were on our home field, which Jarrod had played on many times, and Jarrod asked where the clubhouse was. And that's when I could tell that something was really wrong. He didn't know exactly where he was at. He didn't remember playing the game, he didn't remember school that day."

That was the just the beginning of Jarrod Snell's struggles with concussion.

According to the Sports Concussion Institute, one in ten high school athletes in a contact sport suffers a concussion each season and 35 percent have had more than one.

Despite increasing rules to reduce the brain injuries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says sports concussions have reached an "epidemic level."

And, contrary to what many people think, the brain of a kid is more easily damaged than an adult's.

"Up until age 25, in fact, your brain is growing... refining... changing," said  Dr. Lori Cook, a pediatric brain injury specialist at the Center for Brain Health in Dallas. "So you can imagine if you incur an injury to something that is still in development, you might be likely to see some struggles down the road."

Dr. Cook says a concussion is a microscopic shearing of the white matter, often not detectable with standard brain scans. That's what makes a diagnosis difficult.

"You hear so often about the grey matter, but the white matter is also important because this is the area of the brain where all the connections happen," Dr. Cook said.

Dr. Cook is studying young athletes whose brain connections aren't working properly. Jarrod Snell is involved in the long-term research.

He has short-term memory problems that are consistent with "second impact syndrome," which occurs after several concussions — often in short succession.

"People think he should be drooling on himself, or in a wheelchair, or some physical thing that they can see appearance," said Jarrod's mom. "They don't see that, so everything must be fine. And that's not the case."

Based on the plays, and Jarrod's reaction during last year's football game, his mother suspects he received three concussions during that contest.

Her theory is impossible to prove.

"I couldn't go out in public for probably five or six months," Jarrod said.  "I didn't leave my room for probably a month. I just couldn't handle it. I'd come out here in the living room and the sunlight would just give me a really bad headache. And going out in public, I got really bad headaches and just didn't feel good."

Jarrod said his senses are still dull in some areas; hyper-sensitive in others.

A year later, he's finally back in school, part-time.

"He's not driving, and he should be," Mary-Ann Snell said. "He missed out on being a sophomore; he's still missing out. He'd love to be in an athletic sport of some kind, and he can't. He can't pass a UIL physical, so he can't be in a sport."

Bu publicizing Jarrod's story, his family is hoping to raise awareness of the lasting and life-altering consequences of concussion.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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