Posted at: 09/06/2013 7:37 PM
Updated at: 09/07/2013 3:40 PM
By: Steve Flamisch
CLIFTON PARK -- At 17 years old, Nick Stucchi has already suffered two concussions on the lacrosse field.
The first took six months to clear up. The second caused him to miss an entire season of play and eight weeks of classes at Shenendehowa High School. He received home tutoring to help sharpen his focus.
"I describe it as, when you're reading a manual and you see the Chinese," Stucchi said Friday. "You know it's Chinese, but you don't know what it means. That's what happened with me with the English. I knew it was there. I just couldn't comprehend what it meant."
The prevalence of head injuries in scholastic sports led the New York State Legislature to pass the Concussion Management and Awareness Act in 2011. Signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Act set down new guidelines for the state's public high schools.
A student-athlete in any sport who is suspected of having a concussion must sit out until he or she is symptom-free for at least 24 hours, under the law. A doctor's authorization is required to resume athletic activity. In addition, high school athletic trainers, coaches, nurses, and physical education teachers must undergo special training.
The number of concussions diagnosed in the Shenendehowa School District, K-12, has doubled since the new law took effect, Shen athletic trainer Rick Knizek said. More than 100 students suffered a concussion in the 2012-13 school year, up from about 50 the previous year.
"More kids are being identified with concussions, and those who are legitimately affected by this are getting the appropriate care and the appropriate treatment," Knizek said.
Knizek, who has worked for the district for 16 years, attributed the spike in diagnoses to increased awareness generated by the new law, and heightened athleticism on the part of student-athletes.
"Kids are bigger, faster, stronger than they used to be," he said. "The vulnerability to sustain concussion is a little bit more prevalent than it used to be, as well."
As the high school football season kicked-off Friday in New York, the gridiron remained a key frontier in the effort to prevent, diagnose, and treat concussions.
Ten percent of all high school football players suffer a head injury each year, according to statistics provided by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA). Twenty percent of all players will suffer a head injury at some point in their career.
Equipment can only protect so much. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman warned this week that no helmet completely protects players, regardless of manufacturer's claims.
Knizek agreed with the attorney general's statement, saying he has turned away salespeople who claim their helmet can prevent concussions.
"There will never be, I don't think, a helmet or a piece of equipment that would ever be concussion-proof," Knizek said.
Two concussions have not deterred Stucchi, the Shen student, from attempting to return to the lacrosse field for his senior season. He told his parents he is too passionate to give up.
To other student-athletes, Stucchi offered pointed advice.
"If you think you have the symptoms, just sit it out," Stucchi said. "You can always go back later... It's not worth the injury for the rest of your life."
SYMPTOMS OF CONCUSSION
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define a concussion as "a type of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. Concussions can also occur from a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth."
Symptoms usually fall into four categories:
Difficulty thinking clearly
Feeling slowed down
Difficulty remembering new information
Fuzzy or blurry vision
Nausea or vomiting (early on)
Sensitivity to noise or light
Feeling tired, having no energy
Nervousness or anxiety
Sleeping more than usual
Sleeping less than usual
Trouble falling asleep
Some of these symptoms may not appear right away, according to the CDC. Anyone experiencing these symptoms is advised to seek medical attention.