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From The Houston Chronicle:
We encourage our children to play sports. As parents, we expect bumps and bruises, not a life-threatening head injury. Sports-related concussions continue to be reported at an alarming rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control, traumatic brain injuries occur frequently in contact sports. What's more, these injuries are now second only to car accidents among people aged 15 to 24. New laws are in place to protect our young athletes. Still, they may not be enough to keep them on the sidelines.
With the passage of House Bill 2038, school districts will now be required to have concussion oversight teams, composed of a doctor and at least one trained professional in the area of sports concussions. These oversight teams make the call on whether a student can return to play following a head injury. One requirement: Youth athletes must get written medical clearance before they can return to play. What's more, new University Interscholastic League rules that take effect this month will not allow athletes to return for at least one day. Players used to be allowed back onto the field after 15 minutes of not showing concussive symptoms.
While HB 2038 is being dubbed the most comprehensive and detailed in the nation, the law does not scrutinize the issue of written medical clearance. Getting a note from a health care professional to return to play is not the same as recommending an athlete who suffers a concussion be seen by a specialist. This includes a doctor who specializes in treating concussions or a medical doctor with training in concussion management. That's the recommendation of the American Academy of Neurologists, the largest association of doctors who treat the brain and nervous system. Concussions are often difficult to diagnose and do not always show up on CT scans or MRIs. Identifying concussions requires extensive knowledge.

Further, this law cannot account for concussions that go unreported. In high school sports, athletes often feel tremendous pressure to stay in the game. By some estimates, only half who suffer a head injury actually report it. This puts our youth at risk for second impact syndrome, or SIS. In SIS, a second concussion occurs before the first has properly healed. This leads to severe brain injury and sometimes death.

There has been some debate about whether baseline testing could be costly, ranging from $3 per athlete assessment and $10 to $15 for post concussive testing. Find the money. We are talking about our children's safety.

In professional football and hockey, players are required to undergo baseline health testing. Here in Texas, at least 60 high schools across the state are using baseline health testing for student athletes playing contact sports. It's time for all of our high schools to do the same. Baseline testing involves a computerized test, taking less than 30 minutes. The test establishes a player's reaction time and a baseline before a concussion. The player must be able to replicate that reaction time after a head injury before he or she can return to play. This takes some of the guesswork out of treatment.

We applaud the efforts of lawmakers in the passage of HB 2038, but it cannot end here. Sports should be fun and competitive, and playing sports should come with as much protection as we can provide. With school sports soon under way, we must not overlook the seriousness of concussions. We now know it can be more than just a bump or bruise. We can help lessen the blow by being proactive in how we clear our kids to return to play and through baseline testing.


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