Oklahoma On Track To Strengthen Concussion Laws

Wednesday, March 23rd 2016, 11:15 pm
By: News 9

The Centers for Disease Control estimates 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the United States each year. In 2010, Oklahoma became one of the first states to enact concussion laws to protect young athletes and lawmakers are looking to further strengthen those laws this session.

As the medical evidence mounts, the goal is to make sure injured athletes don't return to the game too soon. That's what happened to Kelly Roliard, a former University of Arkansas soccer goalie.

"About halfway through our season we were playing South Carolina at home," remembers Roliard. "I go down to make a break away save on the ground and a girl comes in and just absolutely knees me straight in my head and I'm knocked out."

It was her second of three major concussions, a condition that eventually knocked her out of the sport for good.

"I was absolutely devastated being told you can't do what you've been doing your entire life, it was heartbreaking," Roliard said.

Lauren Long played soccer all her life. Her career also ended in college, after she had multiple concussions.

"I can still vividly recall the pain and how bad my head hurt," Long said. "Everything kind of fell apart after that concussion so I lost my desire to ever want to do anything."

Oklahoma City Sports Medicine Doctor Jason Leinen says a concussion is a traumatic brain injury where the brain, which is floating in fluid, knocks into the skull.

"The real damage or effect is actually down on the cellular level," Dr. Leinen said. "What we think happens is some of the cells actually twist on themselves, causing inflammation or damage to the cell itself."

However, he says the real danger is going back into the game too soon before it's healed.

"These athletes can end up in the hospital or in a coma or worse, even dying from these injuries," he said.

Those warnings were brought to light in the Hollywood movie 'Concussion' starring Will Smith who portrays Bennett Omalu, a pathologist who discovered CTE, a brain disease found in several former NFL players. However, Dr. Leinan says that's a worst case scenario.

"They found that that's more repetitive head injuries or impacts to the head or body over a long period of time, several years," Dr. Leinen said.

Lauren still suffers from cognitive damage, depression and anxiety.

"It's nine years later and I'm still trying to figure out you know, who I am without soccer and it's not an overnight thing," Long said.

She spends her time blogging on Concussion Connection, http://www.concussionconnection.com/ an online forum she created to educate other athletes.

"You have to speak up, if you don't speak up ultimately you're hurting yourself and your team, that's the bottom line," she said.

Roliard still suffers from headaches and sensitivity to light, but is learning to live with those after-effects of her concussions.

"I can have just as bad of a reaction as I did when I got my last concussion just by tapping it," Roliard said. "I just always have to be careful and it scares me to death."

Right now, the law only applies to members of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. It includes education of student-athletes, families and coaches. It also mandates the removal from play of an athlete who shows signs of a concussion and a written note form a licensed health car profession before returning to play. Violations of the law include penalties ranging from a 30-day suspension to a lifetime ban.

HB2760 and SB1164 would expand that current law to include non-OSSAA schools and other organizations. It also broadens the definition of athlete as seventh-grade and up. Education and training also would extend to game officials and referees. Both bills have passed their respective floors and both have been referred to committees for their second readings.

Doctors also says parents play a big role in keeping their kids safe and suggest watching for any symptoms of a concussion. Those symptoms may begin immediately, or they may not develop for hours, days, weeks, or even months following the injury.

The signs of a concussion include:

  • brief loss of consciousness after the injury
  • memory problem
  • confusion
  • drowsiness or feeling sluggish
  • dizziness
  • double vision or blurred vision
  • headache
  • nausea or vomiting
  • sensitivity to light or noise
  • balance problems
  • slowed reaction to stimuli

During the recovery period after a concussion, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • irritability
  • sensitivity to light or noise
  • difficulty concentrating
  • mild headaches