Did you know that all 50 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws concerning concussions in student-athletes? These laws, aimed at youth and high school athletes, generally contain provisions about educating coaches, parents, and athletes about concussions, removing athletes from play following a suspected concussion, and outlining return-to-play criteria.
In May 2009, the State of Washington passed the first of what would become known as “Return to Play” laws when it passed the “Zackery Lystedt Law.” This law was enacted to address concussion awareness and management in youth athletics and for the first time, mandated the removal of and medical clearance for return to play among youth athletes in sports. The law was the result of heroic efforts by Zackery Lystedt, his parents, and others to prevent life-altering and life-ending brain injuries in student-athletes.
Return To Play Concussion Laws Can Curb Tragedy
Zackery Lystedt was only 13-years old when he hit his head while making a tackle in a school football game. No one knew that he suffered a concussion and after an injury time-out, he was allowed to return to play in the game where he took more hits. As he and his father were walking away from the field, Zack collapsed and was rushed to a Seattle hospital where he would spend the next 3 months – on life support for 7 days and in a coma for 3 months. Zack had sustained a traumatic brain injury during the initial tackle. And subsequently suffered second impact syndrome when he continued to play and take hits, making his initial injury life threatening. He had a bleed on both sides of his brain that required a neurosurgeon to remove skull bones on each side of Zack’s brain in addition to removing the blood clot itself. Zack didn’t speak for 9 months, didn’t move his arms or legs for 13 months, and relied on a feeding tube for 20 months. It would be 4 years until he could purposefully move his right leg.
Second impact syndrome can happen within minutes, hours, days, or weeks after an initial concussion. It can lead to dangerous brain swelling and bleeding because the brain hasn’t recovered from the initial concussion. According to a neurologist at Boston University School of Medicine, second impact syndrome is so devastating that young, healthy patients can die within a few minutes. According to one of Zack’s physicians, had anyone recognized that Zack had suffered a concussion in the first part of the game, he and his family would not have endured the nightmare that followed. That knowledge lead Zack and his family to spearhead the return to play law.
What Is Included In Return To Play Laws?According to the law, if an athlete is suspected of having a concussion, he or she must be removed from play and can only return if and when he or she has been cleared by a licensed healthcare professional. Florida’s return to play law requires “a student athlete who is suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury in a practice or competition to be immediately removed from the activity. A student athlete who has been removed from an activity may not return to practice or competition until the student submits to the school a written medical clearance to return stating that the student athlete no longer exhibits signs, symptoms, or behaviors consistent with a concussion or other head injury. Medical clearance must be authorized by the appropriate health care practitioner trained in the diagnosis, evaluation, and management of concussions…”
The law’s aim isn’t to discourage kids from playing competitive, contact sports. It is to educate coaches, parents, and student-athletes to recognize the symptoms of concussion, the seriousness of concussion, and the importance of adhering to return-to-play criteria to safeguard kids from receiving a second impact before an initial concussion has healed. Sometimes concussion symptoms are immediately visible and apparent, but often-times they are elusive and hard to spot. The law reminds us, When in Doubt, Sit them Out!
If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury and need to speak with an experienced attorney, please contact us online or call our office directly at 727.446.0840.