Medical professionals and engineers work to reduce risk of child

Medical professionals and engineers work to reduce risk of children developing CTE

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LUBBOCK, Texas -

Should your child be playing contact sports, like football and soccer?

Recent research linked to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) suggests youth sports could be causing behavioral disorders and mental illness.

Neurosurgeons, engineers, trainers and former players say it's about teaching the right way to play and the proper way to recover.

Concussion survivor Taylor Jordan received his first concussion in 2003, when he was in eighth grade, playing football.

"I guess with the quarterback, I faked it, I turned around and I got hit helmet to helmet," he said.

The hit left him hazy, didn't take him off the field.

Jordan graduated from Ropes ISD in 2008. He said he suffered from 12 concussions during his time.

"My coaches, if they'd seen a big hit it really riled them up. I mean they thrived off of it. I remember I got hit so hard and then while I was on the ground, I didn't think I could get up, my coach just grabbed me by the helmet and just head butted me again, and I mean it hurt a lot more than the initial hit did," Jordan remembered. "I was hazy several time, but it didn't, we still went and played. You know it wasn't like we were pulled out of the game for being dazed. A lot of times you had to shake it off and keep playing. We had a small school. A lot of times, we played both sides of the ball so we was on the field continuously."

Director of Sports Medicine at Lubbock ISD, Ronnie Kirk, says if trainers see a hit or head impact in any sports, they pull the athlete for an initial assessment, right on the sidelines.

"We have team physicians at all of our varsity games at Plains Capital Park, so we turn it over to them immediately and go from there," Kirk said. "Then we may take them up and go through a further evaluation in the locker room or we may send them onto the emergency room or whatever, depending on what their signs and symptoms are."

Five years ago Lubbock ISD implemented ImPACT testing. It sets a benchmark for athletes to know when they may be concussed. It tests all sports, from football players, to divers. 

Kirk said the district is ahead of the curve with more technology and equipment to prevent concussions.

"At PlainsCapital Park, we have an extra padding underneath the turf surface, so it helps cut down on head to ground type of concussions," Kirk said.

The padding and the helmets help absorb the impact during a collision, similar to airbags and seat belts in a car wreck. Dr. Ben Baronia, a neurosurgeon at UMC, said there's still a big question mark over whether youth sports damages student's futures.

"Remember, C-T-E is the end result of multiple injuries plus x," Baronia said. "Meaning is there a genetic predisposition, is there something that we don't know at this point yet, that's why people develop C-T-E?"

Right now, Baronia said there is one common factor regarding CTE.
"You have a history of multiple hits in the brain and I bet, those multiple hits, you weren't able to allow the brain to recover."

Lubbock ISD practices "return to learn, then return to play." The district will not allow an athlete to return to sports, unless they are symptom-free in the class room. If trainers detect concussion symptoms, the athlete is out for at least another 24 hours. More if the symptoms continue.

"The emphasis should be not to stop sports among children, but actually just to make sure children are protected if they have concussions, that's one. And then providing them ways and means of how to detect concussions," Baronia said.

Taylor Jordan believes there needs to be more money spent on helmets and protecting the neck and spine.

"I've seen people pulled out of the game you know that have had long lasting injuries because their neck getting snapped back," he said.

Alberto Garcia, is working towards that. He's invented a concussion reducing system, "The Smart Helmet."

"Based off of how many G's of force the player has experienced, we have warning lights here that actually turn a different color depending on the severity of the impact," Garcia said.

The wireless helmet sends signals to trainers on the sidelines, showing how hard players have been hit and how many times. 

Baronia says it's not the head that needs the attention.

"The pathology of a concussion, is really more of not on the head alone, it's actually the movement of the head in relation to the neck," he said.

Which is why Garcia's prototype includes neck stabilizers.

"It's actually impossible to reduce the initial impact of that initial movement of the brain hitting the skull, but it is possible to reduce concussions if you can reduce the whiplash motion of the neck, after that initial impact," Baronia explained.

Football and sports play a large role in the physical and social culture of children, especially in Texas. Despite his worry, concussion survivor, Taylor Jordan said he's going to let his kids play, but he's not going to push it.

"I have friends that have migraines, nerve damage. I mean I don't know if it's due to concussions, but I know there are long lasting effects because of it." Jordan shared.

He believes it should start with the coaches teaching proper techniques.

"He has to be the one to enforce it and get it done."

Doctor Baronia believes kids should not stop playing sports, it's not realistic. But concussed athletes need to take the time to rest so they reduce the risk of developing mental and behavioral symptoms, later in life.

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