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Tuesday Aug 05, 2014

Heads Up: School Sports Season Is Upon Us

My practice of family medicine includes sports medicine, and I care for a number of athletes in my community. However, it was an athlete I never cared for -- someone from the other side of the country, in fact -- who changed my practice and the care of young athletes across the United States.

Zackery Lystedt was playing football for his junior high school when he was injured in a game in 2006. He did not lose consciousness, and he returned to the field in the second half. He collapsed and had to be air-lifted out of the area for life-saving surgery. After several strokes and three months in a coma, Zack woke up. But it took nine months before Zack could begin to speak again and nearly three years before he could stand on his own.

I learned about Zack during a presentation by Stanley Herring, M.D. -- a team physician for the Seattle Mariners and Seahawks and a member of the Head, Neck and Spine Committee of the National Football League (NFL) -- at an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) meeting in 2009. He described how Zack and his family had taken up the cause of trying to prevent other young athletes from suffering similar experiences. That same year, the Washington state legislature passed the Lystedt Law, which requires concussed athletes to be cleared by a physician knowledgeable in traumatic brain injury before being allowed to play again.

I had met Herring 10 years earlier when I served as the AAFP liaison at the ACSM's Team Physician Consensus Conference. He played a major role in advocating for the Lystedt Law in Washington, and he asked me to spearhead advocacy efforts for similar legislation in Delaware. It was a great learning experience in policy making as I worked with a state legislator, the NFL and others, and the law was signed by our governor in 2011. By 2013, all 50 states had passed legislation that prevents a concussed athlete from returning to practice or competition for at least 24 hours, and their return to play depends on clearance by a clinician.

There is still much to learn about concussions, as highlighted by a recent White House summit that brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, including the AAFP. Protecting young athletes is an important part of our job as family physicians, and there are resources worth highlighting.

  • With support from the NFL and the CDC Foundation, the CDC has created tools for health care professionals as part of its Heads Up campaign.
  • The agency's resources include a free online CME course that applies not only to young athletes, but also to other concussed patients.
  • The AAFP's sports safety Web page links to journal articles on the topic, including the American Academy of Neurology's guidelines for managing concussions in athletes, as well as to other resources.
  • With schools around the country starting soon, now is a good time to think about preparticipation exams to ensure that our young athletes are in the best possible condition for competition before their season starts.

May all of our patients be safer because we learn to protect them from injuries like the one Zack Lystedt and his family live with every day.

Rebecca Jaffe, M.D., M.P.H., is a member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

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The opinions and views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions and views of the American Academy of Family Physicians. This blog is not intended to provide medical, financial, or legal advice. All comments are moderated and will be removed if they violate our Terms of Use.