North Texas' First Outpatient Concussion Centers Open at Texas Health Hospitals in Dallas, Fort Worth|
FORT WORTH, Texas — Head dings in high school sports are taken much more seriously than in the past — and so are the guidelines this year for Texas teenagers returning to play after a concussion.
A new state law, House Bill 2038, requires that any UIL athlete who shows signs of a concussion must be removed from competition — and receive written clearance from a physician that their brain injury has healed and they're safe to return to play. The legislation has been dubbed “Natasha’s Law,” in honor of Natasha Helmick, a North Texas soccer player who suffered a concussion during a high school match. She returned to competition while still suffering the effects of a previous concussion.
In order to provide specialty concussion care for young athletes and help local athletes and their teams meet the stringent requirements of the new law, Texas Health Ben Hogan Sports Medicine has opened two new outpatient concussion centers on the campuses of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.
Appointments at the centers, which are the only dedicated, multidisciplinary sports concussion clinics in North Texas, do not require a physician referral to be evaluated by specially trained concussion experts. Once a physician at the clinic has determined a high school athlete has fully recovered from the concussion, a letter is sent to the athlete’s parents and, in turn, his or her coaches. The new law does not allow a coach or parent to make the decision without a physician’s evaluation and written approval.
“The new law will significantly improve the way concussions are treated this fall at football games and practices across the state,” said Dr. Damond Blueitt, medical director of the new concussion clinic at Texas Health Fort Worth. “But our concern has been that there’s no system in place for these athletes to be promptly seen by a concussion specialist who can accurately determine whether the athlete may return to competition.”
“Natasha's law” requires that an athlete be removed from competition if a coach, athletic trainer or the student's parents suspects the teenager has suffered a concussion. The law applies to UIL athletes from seventh grade through high school. Many private schools now have similar concussion evaluation standards.
“Ten years ago, the medical world knew far less about concussions than it knows today, so adolescents who suffered concussions would return to normal activities before they were ready and it complicated their recoveries. This can have tragic consequences,” said Ken Locker, M.A., A.T.C., manager of sports marketing for the Texas Health Ben Hogan Sports Medicine Program. “Now we know that kids need more rest and time for the brain to recalibrate. Our experts help young athletes and their families determine when they’re ready to get back to their sport.”
A team of physicians on the hospital’s medical staff, neuropsychologists and certified athletic trainers with expertise in managing sports concussions evaluate each athlete using the ImPACT™ (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) analysis, a web-based evaluation tool that compares mental function after a sports concussion. The online testing program is used by the majority of teams in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, as well as college sport programs and more than 10,000 school districts across the nation. A new VSR™ balance system will help determine whether an athlete’s balance control has been impaired, which is a common post-concussion symptom. Athletes step onto a plate that measures the force exerted by the feet and relays the data to a nearby computer for experts to evaluate.
A concussion can make an athlete vulnerable to a lethal second-impact, if the brain hasn’t properly healed. The second concussion — even if it’s with less force or impact than the initial head injury — can lead to brain swelling and cause long-term disabilities. In extreme cases, second impact syndrome can be fatal.
“It is imperative that these athletes get evaluated by someone who specializes in and who is up to date on current medicine regarding how concussions should be treated so they don’t suffer prolonged symptoms or long-term damage,” Blueitt said.
The centers’ comprehensive approach to concussion care includes:
For more information on the Texas Health Ben Hogan concussion management program, visit TexasHealth.org/BenHogan.
About Texas Health Resources
Physicians on the medical staff are not employees or agents of Texas Health Resources.