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Professionals testify for bills to educate coaches about head injuries

Wednesday, March 2, 2011 | 9:14 p.m. CST; updated 4:02 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 3, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY  — When in doubt, sit them out.

The motto, which refers to "benching" injured student athletes, was repeated throughout the hearing room as medical professionals and a representative from the Missouri State High School Activities Association testified in support of a series of bills heard by the House Health Care Policy Committee during a public hearing Wednesday.

The three bills, sponsored by Rep. Zachary Wyatt, R-Green Castle; Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City; and Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis, would make it a requirement for coaches, teachers and athletes to be educated about the symptoms and hazards of brain injuries in children.

To do this, they propose the school boards of each district work with the association to create a training program to educate leaders of student athletes on the symptoms, risks and severity involved with head injury in children.

In addition, the bills would require that coaches not allow an injured player to return to the field prior to an examination by a health professional and also not before the culmination of rest period of a minimum of 24 hours following the injury.

Thomas Martin, former president of the board of directors of the Brain Injuries Association of Missouri, supported the other medical professionals' testimonies in emphasizing the importance of the coach's knowledge of the symptoms of brain trauma.

"We're talking about physical symptoms, nausea, headache," Martin said. "We're talking about cognitive symptoms: diminished speed of processing, diminished learning and memory. We're talking about changes in sensory functioning, balancing, coordination, vision and hearing. We're talking about changes in behavioral functioning: a lower tolerance for frustration, irritability."

A recent increase in concern about proper care for student athletes who sustain injuries to the head follows the death of Kansas City high school football player, Nathan Stiles, in October. The cause of death was a subdural hematoma, or the pooling of blood on the surface of the brain, following trauma to the tissue.

His death was caused by second-impact syndrome, which happens when athletes take the field prior to healing and sustain a second injury.

"These are our children. These are our future. Multiple brain injuries, multiple concussions — they are not going to be able to function after two concussions," Wyatt said.

Robert Harris, a Columbia pediatric physician, said, "All I can say is, hallelujah."

No one spoke in opposition to the bill.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.


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