Law sheds light on sports injuries and concussions

Dr. Chris Maeda, a doctor at Pacific Medical Center, is a specialist in sports injuries and sees a lot of concussions each year. - Beth S. Elliott/The Mirror
Dr. Chris Maeda, a doctor at Pacific Medical Center, is a specialist in sports injuries and sees a lot of concussions each year.
— image credit: Beth S. Elliott/The Mirror

The Zachery Lystedt concussion law went into effect on July 26. The new bill requires underage athletes suspected of having a concussion to be removed from games. Athletes must have medical clearance before they are able to return. The bill was written following the injury of the Maple Valley middle schooler.

According to notes attached to the bill, Lystedt suffered a head injury while playing football in 2006. The Maple Valley student was kept out of the game for a short time but never lost consciousness. He returned to play in the third and fourth quarters.

When the game ended, Lystedt collapsed. The then 13-year-old had two emergency brain surgeries after arriving at the hospital.

Dr. Chris Maeda is a physician at Pacific Medical Center. He is also a volunteer for Garfield High School.

"Concussions are common in every game," Maeda said.

Dr. Maeda, who specializes in sports medicine, said that as common as concussions are, many people don't seem to know what happens with a concussion.

"The difference between a concussion and a brain injury is that concussions don't usually show structural damage, even in diagnostic imaging."

Losing consciousness or having amnesia are obvious signs, but Dr. Maeda said they are not typical symptoms, as people seem to think.

Dr. Maeda said that physical education being cut from school curriculums may explain why concussions seem to be happening more.

"Kids might not be getting the right training," he said.

Symptoms will appear immediately. Dr. Maeda says to look for functional problems: Headaches, behavioral changes, depression and cognitive "foggyness" are common symptoms.

"If students try to take the SATs the day after their injury, they're going to have a whole lot of trouble," he said.

The bill states that 90 percent of those with serious concussions never lose consciousness. The recovery time is different for everyone and typically longer for young people. According to Dr. Maeda, younger athletes are also more prone to getting concussions.

Dr. Maeda realizes some parents may see this as just another hurdle for players trying to get noticed by scouts, but he said it all comes down to safety.

"We're trained to make sure athletes are safe," he said.

Dr. Maeda said to rest, both physically and mentally, after an injury. The old rule of keeping people awake after a concussion is simply untrue.

Once the headaches have subsided, usually in about four days, athletes should test themselves. Reintroduce normal activities one at a time and observe the effects, he said.

Most concussions will heal on their own, in about a week or so, Dr. Medea said. In the case of Zachery Lystedt, his injuries were more likely caused by Second Impact Syndrome.

Second Impact Syndrome is the occurrence of subsequent concussions before the first has had a chance to heal, and can be fatal, he said. Even a slight tap on the head can cause another concussion.

Lystedt was one of the luckier ones. He survived the injury and continues to make improvements in his therapy, reports said. Lystedt, now 16, and his father both testified in Olympia during a hearing on the bill.

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