GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - During the past few years, there has been a lot of focus on professional athletes and concussions, but local doctors have been expressing concern on the effects of concussions on kids playing sports.
Doctors are stressing the warning about concussions with kids and young adults because they say a developing brain takes longer to recover.
Liz Dumez, 17, is at the doctor's office yet again because of a concussion.
"All of my doctors have said no contact sports. I shouldn't even ride a bike ever again in my life," Liz said.
Liz may never play the sports she loves again because three years ago she was kicked in the back of the head during a soccer match. After some rest and ibuprofen, she was back on the field. But then last March during a rugby game, she was tackled and hit in the head again...and again.
"I don't remember then. Like I can't remember getting hit; I can't remember the car ride, really."
By the time Liz was pulled out of the game and taken to a hospital, she had an extreme headache, pressure behind her eyes, and seeing three of everything.
Today, other longer-lasting symptoms remain. "Like I forget a lot of things. Even since school started it's hard for me to study. I can study for hours and not remember the next day," Liz said.
Liz's mother, Lisa Dumez, wishes there was something she could do to help her daughter retain all that Liz has lost, but "there's nothing you can do about it."
Dr. Michael Lawrence is a neuropsychologist and concussion expert with Spectrum Health Medical Group. Spectrum works with several schools across Kent County screening athletes for concussions. It is not an easy task getting young athletes to tell them everything.
"We see this all too often with high school athletes. They minimize symptoms, say, 'I'm going to be OK; I just have to pull myself up for the good of the team.' And what we find is that's just not the case," Dr. Lawrence said.
KayLynn Beltman is an athletic trainer with Holland Hospital, which works with several Ottawa County schools and just added computerized testing to screenings for student athletes.
Beltman has seen the horrible after-effects of concussions. "I've had kids not even remember who their parents are. They don't know any information. They don't know what their names are," Beltman said.
The impact testing is just one tool that helps doctors decide when an athlete can get back on the field.
"The impact testing gives us baselines, and then when somebody gets a concussion we test them again. It's called a 'Post Injury Test' rather than a 'Baseline Test.' And then we can compare those two tests to see where the difference is in their cognition ability with their brain."
With rest and treatment, most young people recover quickly and completely. But repeated concussions in close proximity, like Liz experienced, can cause longer-term -- sometimes permanent -- damage.
When asked if Liz could participate in soccer or rugby, Dr. Lawrence said: "No. Impact sports just aren't safe given her concussion history. She's more at risk to experience subsequent concussions and the symptoms could be devastating."
Knowing what she knows now, Lisa Dumez hopes other parents listen to her warning and learns from the lessons of Liz's experience. "I was always tough and pushed [Liz] to go further, and I wouldn't do that anymore. I would say to other parents, too, 'You know, even if there's any injury, say above the chest area, be more careful and take precautions rather than be sorry because we're living that.'"
Liz Dumez had a direct message to young athletes: "If you have a symptom...don't keep going because I should have stopped after the first hit."
Dr. Lawrence has some suggestions for parents whose children play contact sports:
• Wearing proper, well-fitting equipment is a must
• If an athlete sustains a concussion during play, they should not be allowed to return to the game and should not be allowed back to activity, until cleared by a medical professional
• Know the common symptoms of concussion. Headache, dizziness and fatigue are common. Vomiting and prolonged loss of consciousness are uncommon symptoms and may suggest more severe brain injury. If any of these symptoms occur, seek prompt emergency medical care
• With rest and proper treatment, most athletes quickly and completely recover. However, repeated concussions in close proximity can have devastating effects and can lead to prolonged and intractable symptoms
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a website with information about preventing concussions, tutorials for health care professionals and high school athletes, and "Heads Up" toolkits; the 'Heads Up' campaign is a partnership the CDC and National Football League that was started for concussion awareness.
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