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Long term effects of concussions in youth sports

   Getting Your Bell Rung and My 9 NFL Caused Emergency VP Shunt Brain Surgeries

My football "career" began at age 11 playing for the West Stockton Bear Cubs Pee Wee Pop Warner team in 1970.  By my 3rd year of Pop Warner I had knocked myself unconscious in a worhless Bull - In - The - Ring drill and was hospitalized.   Minor concussions followed through my playing for the nationally ranked A. A. Stagg high in 1975.  In 1976 I earned a football scholarship to the University of Colorado, majored in Fisheries Biology and played in the 1977 Orange Bowl.  During my college career I sustained at least 2 major concussions (where I had no memory of the game immediately after), and numerous "minor" concussions. (Whats minor about an injury to your brain?) I never missed a play or practice.  

After starting at DT for 3 years, I was selected by the NY Jets as a 6th round pick in the 1980 NFL draft, ultimately playing for the SF 49ers in 80 & 81.  I signed for a $15k signing bonus and  $35 k my first year.  On my first play with the 49ers in 1980, I suffered a major concussion in the first quarter of a Dallas game.  I never missed a play.  Trainers and doctors laughingly told me later in the week when my memory returned, that they gave me 20 - 25 smelling salts during the game to keep me on the field.  Each time I came out, they would hand me a handful.  We all got a big laugh out of that.

Early in the following 81 Super Bowl season, I underwent knee surgery and as I was working out to return to play, developed hydrocephalus (water on the brain), and underwent emergency VP Shunt brain surgery at Stanford.  They drilled a hole in my skull, ran a tube into the ventricles in the middle of my brain, and ran that tube to a pressure valve they installed in the back of my head. From the valve they ran a tube down the side of my neck, through my chest cavity, into my abdomen to permanently drain spinal fluid 24/7.  

While lying in intensive care for 14 days, the trainers called to tell me they were looking into having a special made helmet to allow me to keep playing.  I was all in.  Four months after we won Super Bowl XVI my shunt failed, I went into a coma, had 2 more brain surgeries 10 hours apart and was given last rites.  I was 23 years old.  This began a 4 plus year battle to get brain surgeries #2 and #3 paid for.  After battling the 49ers for Workers Comp coverage, (during which time I had 2 more knee surgeries attempting to repair the torn ACL, which the 49ers surgeon neglected to repair),  I won my case in 86 and my hospital bills finally paid.   I returned to school to complete my Biology degree in 86, and during one 10 month period in 87, survived 4 additional emergency brain surgeries and several gran mal seizures.  All while taking Organic Chem, Physics and Algebra/Trig.

I graduated in 1990 at the age of 32 with a degree in Biological Conservation and began work as a Wildlife Biologist.  I have now survived 9 emergency VP shunt brain surgeries (when the shunt goes out, I go into a coma w/in 16-24 hrs unless operated on), and several more gran mal seizures.

The best part about the story, I still don't qualify for any NFL benefits.  

That is why parents and coaches at the lower levels need to be informed about the long term cognitive impacts concussions can have on their children.  And I'm not only talking about football.  There are many more concussion in soccer each year than football.  

Football coaches and trainers should be required to pass a protocol certification training session on concussions before being allowed to coach or make a decision to clear a player to return to play.  And we need to teach the players to block and tackle without using the brain as a weapon.   

"A traumatic brain injury is like throwing a rock in a pond, the ripple effect as to the number of people impacted is huge."    George Visger, on stand at Workers Compensation hearing vs SF 49ers in 1986. 

George Visger                                                                                                                                                                                                                        SF 49ers 80 & 81                                                                                                                                                                                                              Survivor of 9 NFL Caused Emergency VP Shunt Brain Surgeries                                                                                                                      Benefactor Of ZERO NFL Benefits.