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Donation provides student testing before, during and following a concussion

Published: Friday, Nov. 11 2011 12:44 p.m. MST

Troy Humpherys, center, a student and athlete at Copper Hills High School in West Jordan, participates in computer testing at Copper Hills to learn more about concussions, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

WEST JORDAN — It wasn't until after the football game that Copper Hills High School linebacker Troy Humpherys blacked out and collapsed.

He had been hit hard during a defensive play in the game and suffered a pretty serious concussion, but his coaches and trainers were unaware because Humpherys didn't say anything about it. The 16-year-old actually pretended not to have it just so he could stay in the game.

"I wanted to play," he said. "At the end of the game, I had to be rushed to the hospital because I kept playing on it. I ended up being out for two weeks because it got worse and worse."

Just this year, as a result of recent statewide legislation, the Utah High School Activities Association instituted policies that require student athletes to be removed from play when a concussion is suspected or does, in fact, occur, and coaches and athletic trainers must go through strict and lengthy evaluations of the student, including filling out a clearance form before kids with concussions can return to play.

"When they do get hurt, we do our best to get them back as soon as we can, but we want it to be safe as well," said Matt Gubler, athletic trainer for West Jordan High School and an employee with Registered Physical Therapists. More important, he said the student athletes are constantly educated to play smart and avoid head injuries altogether.

But, even with all the precautions, Gubler said between five and eight students at West Jordan High suffered concussions or minor brain injuries during the recent football season alone. And they varied in severity, keeping students out of the game for a minimum of one week and up to a month when symptoms persisted.

"It's scary because you don't really know what's going on," Humpherys said. The junior said he had to get his teachers to take it easy on him for a week or so, because "even thinking hurt my brain."

In order to help identify symptoms in the event of a concussion and override the athlete's tendency to lie about it, officials at three area high schools are in the process of issuing mental acuity tests to up to 900 of their student athletes. The $1,500 cost of testing is borne by the Jordan Valley Medical Center, to get information reported and recorded for a good percentage of the local athletes at Copper Hills, West Jordan and Riverton high schools.

The test, made possible by national imPACT Applications, is a tool that helps to measure the athlete's cognitive performance before, during and after a concussion. It has proven to be helpful in keeping student athletes safe, after 2009 study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, pointed out that 40 percent of student athletes who have experienced a concussion return to action too soon.

Dr. Joseph Fyans, Copper Hills High School team physician and a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Jordan Valley Medical Center, said 60 percent of athletes who are concussed will recover within 24 hours, and up to 80 percent get back to normal within a week.

"Safety is our No. 1 concern," he said, adding that concussions can have long-term and potentially serious ramifications if they go unrecognized or are left untreated.

"They can have headaches permanently. They can have problems with concentration and issues with balance. It can affect their cognitive activities and ability to tolerate physical activity," Fyans said. In addition to bothersome physical conditions, something called second-impact syndrome can spell out an early death for the patient.

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