Alert Parent Spots Subtle Concussion Symptoms

Bret BuursemaAs the Manager for Community Outreach at Children's, Beth Buursema has a wealth of knowledge about concussions and their symptoms.

She helped spread that knowledge in the past year to parents and coaches and helped the government relations team support the Return to Play Act of 2013.

But nothing could prepare her for seeing the effects of a concussion on her own son.

"To be in a mom's shoes, watching my son take a test after a concussion and seeing how poorly he was doing," she said, "it was tough to watch."

"The Bullet"

Beth's 11-year-old son Bret loves to compete. Nicknamed "The Bullet," he never lets his small size get in the way of making a catch or a tackle while playing on his travel football team.

"He is the smallest kid on our team," Beth said. "He plays defense and he is a tough little cookie."

During the last play of a game in October, Bret jumped up to make a catch. When he came down, he was tackled by a much larger player whose helmet made a crunching impact on Bret's facemask. The hit was hard enough to pop one of the air pockets in his helmet.

Bret was able to walk off the field under his own power but complained of a headache and sleepiness for the rest of the night.

Delayed Symptoms

Two days later, when Bret was getting up to go to school, Beth grew more concerned. His pupils were dilated and he was feeling nauseated.

Even though her son wasn't exhibiting the common symptoms of severe concussions—confusion, mood swings and vomiting—she brought Bret to the Sports Medicine Program at Children's.

The specialists performed a variety of tests, including having Bret say the months of the year backwards. The first time he tried, he forgot August. The second time, he forgot August and July.

Bret then took an ImPACT test to compare to the baseline test he took before his season started. The comparison between the two tests confirmed that he had sustained a mild concussion.

Cognitive Rest

For nine days, Bret had to sit out of all activities, including school and sports. He also wasn't allowed to watch TV or play with any tablets or smart phones. His brain needed time to recover.

"It was very hard for him," Beth said. "Sports are his love. For him to not be able to do anything was tough. We had to get very creative as a family."

Once his headaches went away, Bret was able to start going to school for half of the day. It wasn't until three weeks later that he was able to handle a full day of school and return to activities.

"If we had not been in an environment where the coaches understood what was going on and a parent who knew what to look for, he would have been back on the field and in school all day long," she said. "That is what concerns me more and more about what the repercussions could be down the line."