Eighteen-year-old John Sommers loves sports. The Norcross resident is a member of both the football and lacrosse teams at Marist High School. He’d hoped to play both sports in college as well. However, in October 2009, something happened to change the high school junior’s plans—he suffered a concussion during football practice after receiving an especially hard hit.
The school athletic trainer gave John an ImPACT test, a 30- to 45-minute, computer-based evaluation that tests memory, processing speed, reaction time and problem solving. The test results confirmed that he did have a concussion, and John and his family were referred to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Concussion Clinic for evaluation and treatment.
At Children’s, John was treated by David Marshall, M.D., Medical Director of the Sports Medicine Program. Marshall helped John understand the importance of not returning to play until he had fully recovered—despite the fact that his team was in the playoffs.
Marshall went a step further and met with John’s counselors and school administrators to help them understand the gravity of a concussion and the accommodations a student suffering from such an injury needs. John was allowed to rest in the school nurse’s office when necessary and was given extra time on and a quiet space in which to take exams.
John met with Marshall once each week until he could slowly begin reconditioning in November, but didn’t return to normal activity until December.
According to Marshall, there are three criteria for return to play after a young athlete has experienced a concussion.
- The athlete must be completely symptom free after total physical and cognitive rest. "Total physical and cognitive rest" means the child must stay home from school and not participate in physical activity.
- The child must remain symptom free after his or her return to school and resuming physical activity. Children’s uses a five-step program for reintroducing physical activity, but, ultimately, the athlete should be at maximum levels of activity and participating in a normal school day, with no symptoms of concussion.
- "Normalization" of ImPACT test or another type of neurological test. While the first two criteria are subjective and physicians must rely on the athlete to verbalize whether he or she is experiencing symptoms, the third criteria is objective.
It can take three days or three months for an athlete to achieve these goals and be cleared for return to play. The most important thing is to ensure that the child is completely ready and will not sustain further damage from engaging in sports.
In John’s case, he was able to return to his previous athletic activity. He has been medically cleared to play football in 2010, his senior year at Marist—as long as he doesn’t experience another concussion.
As for the future, John has decided to forego playing football in college and stick with lacrosse instead. His dream is to someday be a pilot, and John doesn’t want to jeopardize that goal by subjecting himself to further concussions likely to be sustained while playing football.