High School Sports

Injury repercussions: High schools become more aware of the aftereffects of concussions

Tyler Bulloch eagerly anticipated his senior football season at Bishop Carroll. As he went through the Eagles' non-contact camp in the summer, he planned on being one of the leaders, wanting to lead Carroll back to the Class 5A title game.

But Bulloch stands on the sideline this season — hasn't put on his pads once. Instead, he's helping out with the offensive line.

One concussion ended his football career. While he had hoped he would be recovered enough to play this season, he had an inkling that might not happen.

Bulloch doesn't remember the hit during practice last November, but the concussion was so severe that Bulloch still takes medicine to battle migraines.

"My doctor told me (in June) it would be crazy to play football," Bulloch said.

The U.S. House Education and Labor Committee reports that 140,000 high school athletes suffer concussions annually. Carroll coach Alan Schuckman said three of his players suffered mild concussions last week.

On Wednesday, the House passed a concussion bill that requires trained medical professionals to release in writing any injured athlete to return to their sport.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association recommends the same. The City League also insists an athlete pass a test to determine whether the symptoms are gone.

"We don't want them to get back out to play before it's safe for them to return to play," City League athletic director Bill Faflick said.

Campus uses a computer system called ImPACT to test the brains of its athletes in sports such as football and soccer. Athletic trainer Dennis Munk said it provides a base-line reading of their memory recall and how fast the brain functions, so if they have a concussion, they can be tested again to see what has changed.

The number of athletes suffering concussions has risen in years, but Mark Stovak, the medical director of Via Christi Sports Medicine, thinks it's because concussions have been underreported.

Schuckman remembers a time when players would head back out to play as soon as "the fog lifted."

Medical professionals know now that depression and a decreased ability to function on a daily basis can occur with concussions.

The brain of Owen Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania football player who committed suicide in April, was recently found to be in the early stages of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The incurable brain disease is progressive and is caused by repetitive brain trauma.

Concussions are "like when you shake up an egg," Stovak said. "Your brain sloshes around in your skull like a soft egg, and so when it's sloshing around in there, it bangs up against the skull."

It doesn't only take a big hit, either. A minor ding or fall can cause a concussion and such symptoms as headaches, nausea and irritability.

For Bulloch, it affected his vision and short-term memory. Two days after the concussion, he couldn't remember how to turn the shower on. He'd fall for no reason while walking across a room.

His parents were horrified.

"I can't put into words how scary it can be," said his mother, Paulette."... We're very fortunate that we got Tyler back."

Bulloch's concussion is one of the worst. Others have had multiple mild concussions and not seen the same results. The key is the length of symptoms.

"If I'm knocked unconscious and have a seizure and (my symptoms) are gone by Sunday and he doesn't get knocked unconscious or have a seizure, but his symptoms last two weeks, his are worse," Stovak said.

The brain isn't the same after a concussion.

"It's like if you get a scar on your skin, it's never the same, never as good as tissue as you started with," Stovak said. "This is a brain scar."

And that's why Paulette Bulloch knows that her son not playing football was the right move.

"It scares me because what if he's in a car accident someday and he gets another concussion?" she asked. "They're cumulative. You don't start over with the next one. You start where you left off."

Although Bulloch knows why he can't play, it hasn't been easy.

Especially when he's about to walk onto the field before a game; he can't duplicate the adrenaline rush he had as a player.

"I'd watched the seniors before me, and after their last game, their sadness," Bulloch said. "It was like that. It was like having my last game and not knowing it was my last game.

"I never knew the Liberal game would be my last game. I expected to have another season to go play real well. I didn't have that opportunity."