Matt would spend nearly a month in intensive care because of complications from second-impact syndrome. His first concussion, suffered three weeks before on the second-to-last play of a game, was not detected, even after Dave took Matt to the doctor when he told his father that he felt blurry.

"One thing that still hurts is that I always told my kids that if they suffered a concussion, I would keep them out the whole year," says Matt's father. "He passed all of his neurological tests. I guess he was misdiagnosed."

Matt Blea suffered another setback when the surgical incision became infected, requiring another procedure to remove a piece of his skull. For the next 42 days, Blea was forced to wear a helmet and take a chemotherapy-like cocktail of antibiotics.

Terry Merkel and son Justin, who suffered a minor concussion in a youth football game in Gilbert and has been fine since.
Michael Ratcliff
Terry Merkel and son Justin, who suffered a minor concussion in a youth football game in Gilbert and has been fine since.
Steve Hogen, athletic director at Mesa High School
Michael Ratcliff
Steve Hogen, athletic director at Mesa High School

"I don't remember much at the hospital," says Blea, who was paralyzed on the right side of his body for more than a month. "I remember people holding me up while I tried to take my first step, but my body felt like there was nothing there, like a ghost."

To the surprise of the physicians, Blea eventually recovered. Soon, the high school graduate will attend De Anza College in Cupertino, California, to start a hoped-for career in physical therapy, a profession he never considered until after his injury. His first choice was to become a paramedic, but he's been told that's impossible. That's because his right eye remains half-blind.

Dr. Mark Ashley — co-founder, president, and CEO of the Centre for Neuro Skills, whose clinics in Bakersfield, California, and Irving, Texas, specialize in traumatic brain injury rehabilitation — currently is helping Ali Champness recover from a number of serious health issues spawned by the not-too-dramatic hits from a soccer ball in January.

Champness, based on Ashley's advice, sat out the rest of the soccer season. Two months later, she joined the school's swim team. But three weeks in, she called her mom from a competitive meet in a panic. "Mom, you need to get me to a doctor," Kim Champness remembers her daughter saying.

At Ashley's center, an MRI and CAT scan revealed bleeding in Ali's brain. A cardiologist found that the initial concussion had deregulated Ali's autonomic nervous system. For months, whenever she jogged on the treadmill, her heartbeat soared high enough to trigger cardiac arrest or stroke. She still goes to rehab three hours a day.

One of Ashley's most severe cases, treated at the Centre's Texas facility in 2006, was a 13-year-old football player from the Seattle suburbs named Zackery Lystedt, called "Ray Ray" after his idol, rampaging linebacker Ray Lewis.

In the second quarter of a game, Lystedt fell backward after an unremarkable tackle and hit the back of his head, although the injury escaped the notice of his father in the stands. "I thought he had gotten the wind knocked out of him," recalls Victor Lystedt.

Lystedt played every down for the rest of the game, even forcing a fumble and sprinting 32 yards in the return. But when his dad met him after the game, Lystedt started stumbling and muttering, "My head hurts really bad."

He collapsed onto the field. His left eye suddenly "blew out" and turned an inky black, the result of blood swelling in his skull. And then he convulsed into dozens of strokes. Says Victor, who witnessed the spectacle, helpless and confused, "My boy was dying on a football field." His son would survive, but his serious health problems continue to the present day.

Concussive episodes in youth aren't limited to soccer and football players, says Dr. William Jones, a staff physician at the Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine Institute in Houston. In recent years, Jones has witnessed a staggering increase in concussions, due partly to better detection, in high school cheerleaders and 10-year-old gymnasts.

Because of this, school districts en masse are adopting new procedures for dealing with blows to the head. The most popular is the ImPACT test. A simple computer program designed by a pair of Pittsburgh doctors in the early 1990s, the exam finds an athlete's "baseline" — his mental aptitude and quickness of reflexes when he's not suffering concussive symptoms — which can be used later in a comparative test to see if a collision has caused a lag.

But the test has hit real-world snags. The first is its price: At packages costing roughly $600 per school for the first year, ImPACT is deemed too expensive for some districts. And even when they spring for the program, few schools can afford to pay a specialist to administer it. That duty tends to fall on coaches or trainers, who are often unqualified to conduct the test. As shown in a litigious case in the 'burbs of New York City, the results can be tragic.

In 2008, Ryne Dougherty, a 16-year-old high school linebacker in Essex County, New Jersey, sat out three weeks following a concussion. But after taking an ImPACT test, he was cleared to play. During his first game back, he suffered a brain hemorrhage and slipped into a coma. Dougherty died within a week.

But Dougherty's ImPACT results were ominously low, the family has claimed in a lawsuit against the school district. Additionally, according to the test results, Dougherty reported feeling "foggy," but he was still cleared to play.

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10 comments
days out for kids
days out for kids

Wally do not ever gets whatever what is the news is during things. He's got designate is acceptable. Asphalt. What i mean discourage start! Speculation the guy would will need to care about having a concussion should the guy tried athletic? Heh.

Amber Murray
Amber Murray

Your websites terrible! Loading issues won't let me read the article.

Doug Bittle
Doug Bittle

Walter never sees what the news is in anything. He's name is appropriate. Concrete. As in block head! Guess he wouldn't have to worry about getting a concussion if he played sports? Heh

SLA
SLA

I had a concussion when I was 5 from being thrown from a horse. Will it be illegal to ride hroses as a kid too? I probably had a harder time than everyone else in a lot of subjects too, but I was never "dumb" always perceptive and got decent grades, but I had a problem retaining the information without a lot of extra work or emotion involved. I forget things very easily, but not to the point that it's screwing up my life. At what point do we ask ourselves is a safe and boring world really living...? Now if they're playing sports, yeah, don't be a moron, get your kid out and take them to the doctor...but frankly, the damage is done at that point.

charles
charles

Uhhh how about an informed society???? personally I didin't know about the future problems but thanks to this article I do now....people like you should be hit in the head with a shovel.....after diggin of course.

Walter Concrete
Walter Concrete

I don't see what the news is here. It's common sense. Isn't western medicine and big pharma the saviours of the western world? It's obvious...if you get hit in the head you sit out and get checked. Sports is a game, it's not crucial to play with injury. In fact it's a programmed response for slaves to adhere to and be one of the pack.

 
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