Every once in a while a news item comes across my desk that deserves a special shout-out. Such was the case today.
It was a story from The Seattle Times about a 13-year-old middle school football player named Zackery Lystedt, who collapsed from a traumatic brain injury in October 2006 when he was allowed back into a game just
15 minutes after suffering a concussion. Zackery spent the next nine months in a
coma, and even today still sits in a wheelchair, having regained his sight and ability to speak but still struggling to regain strength in his left leg and foot.
A state representative named Jay Rodne took a special interest in Lystedt's case and decided to see what he could do to protect other youth athletes, including his 10-year-old soccer-playing daughter, Kalyn, and 12-year-old football playing son, Rye, from suffering a similar fate.
In January 2009, Rodne introduced a bill that would not only require pre-season concussion education of athletes and parents, but adopt the strictest return-to-play concussion guidelines in the country. His bill would require that:
- Youth athletes and his or parent and/or guardian be provided information before every season about the nature and risk of concussion and head injury, including the risk from continued play with the signs or symptoms of concussion;
Youth athletes and a parent and/or guardian sign and return a concussion and head injury information sheet in order for athletes to be allowed to practice or compete;
Youth athletes suspected of having sustained a concussion in a practice or game be immediately removed from competition; and
- Youth athletes who have been taken out of a game because of a suspected concussion not be allowed to return to play until they have been evaluated by a health care provider with specific training in the evaluation and management of concussions and received written clearance to return to play from that health care provider.
When the House version of the proposed legislation, with the support of the state's 350,000 member youth soccer association, passed unanimously last week, Zackery and his father, Victor, were on the statehouse floor to witness the vote and hear Rodne tell them, though Zakery might never play football again, that the statute would be his legacy forever.
On Monday, a slightly different version of Zackery's law garnered near unimous support in the Senate, prompting Victor Lystedt to celebrate by cooking his son steak and crab for dinner, with Dairy Queen sundaes for dessert.
Once the two bills are reconciled, the compromise version will be sent to Washington governor, Chris Gregoire, to sign into law, and would take effect by fall 2009.
Great step forward but more work to be done
To say I am thrilled about the imminent passage of the law would be an understatement. For the past eight years, I have been writing and speaking about the need for pre-season concussion education of youth athletes and their parents and pushing for strict concussion return-to-play guidelines. Zackery's law is a huge step in the right direction and should serve as a model for the rest of the country.
But I believe even more steps needs to be taken to prevent concussions from occurring and to protect our children when they do, some but not all of them beyond the reach of government:
- The athletic departments of the nation's high schools need to have a certified athletic trainer (ATC) on staff;
Athletes playing contact sports should undergo pre-season baseline and post-injury neuropsychological testing;
We need to provide every child with a safe helmet;
Coaches and officials should be required by law to be trained and certified in basic safety and emergency procedures, including the recognition of concussion signs and symptoms;
Sports officials should be given the right to send any athlete who they reasonably suspect has suffered a concussion during play to the sideline for further evaluation;
The pre-participation physical examination (PPE) required for sports participation should include the taking of a comprehensive concussion history; and
- The national governing body for each sport posing a concussion risk should take additional steps to address concussions, both in terms of education and prevention.
So, a big shout-out for the folks in the Pacific Northwest behind Zackery's Law, but let's think of it only as a start. There's a lot more we can and should be doing.
Update: On May 14, 2009, Washington governor, Chris Gregoire, with Zackery sitting next to her in his wheelchair and his father and 50 friends and family watching on, signed the Zackery Lystedt Law into law.