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Conservative Management of Youth Concussions, More Education Needed, de Lench Says

Remarks To Concussion Conference



Thank you for that kind introduction. It is indeed an honor to have been asked to participate in this conference and to speak to an audience filled with a veritable who's who in the world of concussions in sports. Since April is Youth Sports Safety Month this is a wonderful time to be talking about how to prevent and manage the concussions that our children are suffering in increasing numbers.

I view the subject of concussions from a perspective different from most of you: as a parent and mother, certainly, but also as the Editor-in-Chief and founder of an online publication that values teamwork among all the stakeholders with an interest in youth sports so highly that it is a part of our very name, and has made since our inception in 2000, youth sports safety an important part of our mission.

Over the next half hour I will offer some suggestions on how each of us — whether we be parent, coach, official, athletic trainer, clinician, current or former professional athlete, sports safety equipment manufacturer, whether we are here representing a local youth sports program, the national governing body of a sport, or a professional sports league, can work together with parents as a team to protect our country's most precious human resource — our children — against catastrophic injury or death from sudden impact syndrome or the serious, life-altering consequences of multiple concussions. 

As a mother of triplet sons, I have always taken a keen interest in their safety. I suspect that all parents would say, if asked, that they put their kids' safety first — whether it is playing organized sports, at home, or riding their bike in the neighborhood. Some parents — particularly mothers, who have been the guardians of children at play since the dawn of day — not only talk that talk, but walk the walk, and are very protective.

I admit that, when it came to my sons' safety — and the safety of their teammates, I fell — and still fall — at that end of the spectrum, because I feel that, while life always involves some degree of risk, childhood should be a time when it is our responsibility as parents to minimize those risks and make it one of our highest priorities.

I remember when my son, Spencer, was playing junior varsity football. My mother's intuition told me that it wasn't a good idea. He was one of those gifted kids who played 100% on defense and 100% of offense. I was worried about what all those hits to the head and blows to the chest were doing to his brain, and, even though he never suffered a hit that actually knocked him out, I was aware of his two previous concussions¡ªone while snowboarding. I suspected something was dangerously wrong when, in his last game his sophomore year in 1999, I saw him wandering around on defense, seemingly in a daze, unable to remember where he was supposed to play.

That week, I took him to see Cheryl Weinstein a neuropsychologist at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. After a battery of neuropsychological tests, Dr. Weinstein slowly told me that Spencer risked permanent brain damage if he continued playing lacrosse and football. I agonized over the decision in making sure that he did not return to the playing field.

It was a decision Spencer found incredibly difficult to comprehend and accept. He loved playing football. Like just about every boy his age, he enjoyed being part of a team. He was proud to wear his crimson and white football jacket to school. As a football player, he enjoyed his elevated status on the high school social pecking order.