ImPACT program helping athletes

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By Mickey Patterson

High school athletes who suffered a concussion during the fall sports season were diagnosed better and treated better before being released back to the field this year a trio of athletic trainers said.
Thanks to the ImPACT program adopted this fall, the trainers and the players' respective doctors have a better way to gauge when and if an athlete is ready to return to play.
"I really like the program because it's a great way for us to have a black and white way to tell us the kids are healed," South Oldham High School trainer Kelly Dyke said. "In the past there has always been such a gray area. Now we have an established baseline to go by."
ImPACT's main weapon is a standardized test that was given to all local high school athletes prior to the start of their season. Each test is geared to the individual athlete and measures various aspects like word discrimination, memory through personalized and other questions and visual attention span.
"The test is so specific for each athlete and that is such a huge help," Dyke said. "You always have kids outside the norms, everyone takes a test differently. We now have their own data to compare instead of something generalized."
Once the athlete suffers a concussion they are administered the test within a week of the injury, if they do not pass every aspect, they are not allowed to return to play.
Those athletes that fail the first time, can be retested again 48 hours later. Athletes do not take the test until they are symptom free. The most common symptoms of a concussion are headaches and lost of attention span.
e confidence in clearing the athletes' return after they have been cleared by their doctor.
"It just gives us a lot more confidence about deciding if they are ready or not," North Oldham High School trainer Lynn Cook said. "I think it gives the kids and their parents a lot more confidence too."
During the fall sports season, Dyke tested 13 athletes after they suffered a concussion, Cook tested 14 while Oldham County High School trainer Nick Sarantis had 10 athletes suffer concussions. SOHS and OCHS each had one athlete suffer a career ending concussion while NOHS had three.
Each trainer dealt with more than 400 athletes in the fall sports season.
All three trainers also had athletes fail the test the first time and in some cases multiple times before they were allowed back. All three said most athletes passed the first time and at least by the second time they took the test.
The concussions have come in the obvious sports like football and soccer, but also in cheerleading, field hockey and pre season basketball practices.
The ImPACT program also plays a preventative role in “Second Impact Syndrome,” or a second consussion.
This incident is usually much more serious than the first concussion and can involve permanent brain damage, especially with the younger athletes whose brains are still forming. Dike said studies have shown that once an athlete has a concussion, it is much easier to get a second one.
It is also important with younger athletes.
Unlike other sports injuries, athletes under the age of 23 do not recover from concussions nearly as quickly as athletes older than 23.
It is estimated that as many as 300,000 athletes will receive a sports-related concussion in a year and that an athlete has a 19 per cent chance of suffering a concussion during the course of a season giving the program an added level of importance.
The program has worked in several ways for the trainers and the athletes this year, even when the trainers were not in attendance at a game where an athlete suffered a concussion.
"I had a kid get a concussion at an away game and when I first saw him he seemed about 50/50 on being ready to play," Sarantis said. "When he took the test the first time that was dead on accurate so we held him out and he passed it the second time. In that one instance it gave me the objective data I needed to keep him from getting hurt worse. In that case it was as good as it was advertised."
It also gives the trainers a way to insure that athletes are not pushed to the field to often by any outside influences.
"We've got the protocol now to say if the kid is ready to go back out there or not," Sarantis said. "It stops anyone from pushing them back out there because they have to pass the test the school system has endorsed or they are not going to play."
For Cook, the ImPACT program made her realize the problem with concussions may have been more severe.
"It kind of opened my eyes with how many we had," Cook said. "Some years you have a lot of knee injuries or shoulder injuries, but I didn't expect the numbers we had. Either the kids didn't say anything in the past or we did not realize how many there were."
The trainers agreed the program has raised the awareness of concussions.
"I feel like the whole system in general has made everyone more alert," Cook said. "I think in the past a lot of concussions may have slipped through just because the players or the coaches knew exactly what we were looking for. These are serious injuries that can lead to brain damage or even death. Everyone wants to say it won't happen to me, but it always could be you."

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