Longform

Knocked Out: For Kids, Concussions Can Be Worse Than for Adults

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"Youth sports might suffer the most because of their lack of resources . . . A town of 80 people, like the one from Hoosiers, may not even think about potential litigation until something tragic happens," says Pachman.

Randall Scarlett of the San Francisco-based Scarlett Law Group admits that it's a "dismal state out there in terms of concussion protocols that coaches and others are to follow." However, Scarlett doesn't think there will be a deluge of lawsuits if and when the state's bill is approved. (California's concussion legislation has been in the works for the past two years, but, because of financial constraints, has not made it out of committee.)

"In California, you're not going to get litigation unless you get some pretty egregious facts because of the burden of proof and the lack of standards for non-physicians," he says.

Before concussion laws came into vogue, the mother of Demond Hunt Jr. took her son's coach and the local school district to task.

In 2008, Demond, a 16-year-old linebacker for East St. Louis (Illinois) High School, collapsed on the sideline during a game. A blood vessel had burst in his brain, which sent Hunt into multiple seizures and strokes.

Earlier in the game, Demond, according to the lawsuit, had complained of a concussion-like headache to his coach, who told him in so many words to suck it up and keep playing. Prosecuting attorney Michael McGlynn, who refused to comment in detail, says the case still is pending.

The parents of Zackery Lystedt of Seattle also filed suit on their son's behalf. Airlifted to a Seattle ER on life support, Lystedt had the top of his head completely removed by surgeons. He wasn't supposed to regain consciousness.

The milestones that have been reached since then have been both miraculous and frustratingly glacially paced. Nine months after the strokes, Lystedt resumed speaking. By 13 months, he moved his left arm. After 20 months, he could once again eat. Now, five years later, Lystedt, age 18, can walk a few steps with a cane. "You get a little bit back, you want a little bit more," says Victor Lystedt of his son's progress. "You never get satisfied, because you had it all before."

Zack's parents, whose lives have been completely altered as they have cared full-time for their son, sued the school district for allowing him to play through his injury. The district settled, with one of its lawyers shrugging off the payout as a "business decision."

That still offends his father. "Shame on those lawyers," says Victor. "They can all rot in Hell as far as I'm concerned. There's nothing 'business' about my kid."


Before she became an old woman at age 14, Kayla Meyer had three passions. She rode horses on her family's farm. She was a huge reader. "Supernatural monsters kind of thing," says the gregarious Minnesotan when asked what books she likes, "or old kind of sword-fighting stuff."

And, like seemingly every other man, woman, and child in the iced-over town of New Prague, 45 miles south of Minneapolis, Meyer played hockey.

In early 2009, then age 13, she was skating in a club game when a collision took her legs out from under her and she fell, hitting the back of her head. Meyer told the coach she was fine and played the rest of the game.

When she went to the nurse with a headache the next day, the nurse gave her aspirin. When her headache persisted, a doctor administered a run-of-the-mill CAT scan, which does not detect concussions. Nothing looked amiss, so she was cleared to return to the ice.

"I've been skating since I was 4, at the pond near my house," Meyer says. "It would've just felt weird not to play hockey."

Ten months later at a high school team practice, Meyer was doing a drill she calls "mountain climbers," a sort of butt-in-the-air pushup on skates. Exhausted, her arms slipped, and her forehead smacked the ice. The rest of the team skated to the locker room, unaware that she lay crumpled in pain. It wasn't until the next team found her in the rink that Kayla's mom, Mandy Meyer, received a frantic call to come to the arena.

Kayla's head hurt so badly in the next couple of weeks that her bewildered parents called a plumber to check for carbon monoxide leaks in their house. Her coach's solution, according to Mandy Meyer: "Put a helmet on her. Let her skate through it."

Kayla's head was too sensitive for her to even bear a helmet. She hasn't played hockey since. A year and a half since that second concussion, she remains hobbled by excruciating headaches and a crippling intolerance to noise.

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By Steve Jansen and Gus Garcia-Roberts