BOSTON — Moments after scoring a goal during a high school soccer game, Molly Caron received a blow to the back of her head.
Effects of the concussion she received from the hit lasted nine months, and disrupted her school work and ability to play sports, Caron told lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Public Health who are contemplating a bill that would require baseline testing for student athletes (H 1928).
Baseline tests before an injury occurs would help doctors determine if it is okay for athletes to return to the field. For results to be effective, athletes would take another test following an injury to give doctors and coaches an indication of the severity of a concussion, according to doctors who testified in favor of the proposal.
The legislation, filed by Rep. Angelo D’Emilia (R-Bridgewater) and Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), would require the Department of Public Health “create, implement and maintain mandatory baseline concussion testing for all high school aged athletes enrolled in public school or any school, private or otherwise, that is subject to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association rules.”
High school athletes sustain an estimated 136,000 to 300,000 concussions per year, according to momsTEAM, a website for parents of student athletes.
Dr. Daniel Hughes, who treated Caron following her injury, said baseline tests would make it easier for doctors to manage concussion care.
“We are doing, quite frankly, our children a disservice not using every instrument we have,” he said.
The test looks at short-term memory, retention, processing speeds and reaction time, as well as any other medical issues that may affect someone, according to Hughes. The test costs around $2 per test, he said.
Hughes said current sideline tests coaches and health officials give are “nothing more than a lie detector test” for athletes who desire to get back on the field. Baseline tests would also help doctors in cases where an athlete is not showing symptoms.
“This test gives us a better idea of where they stand and where they are back to normal,” he said.
“It is not perfect, in terms of medicine, the brain is the last great frontier,” Hughes said. “But it is a much better process we are using now than just five years ago.”
Two years after her brain injury, Caron said she is still healing.
“I have to fight extremely hard to be here today,” she said.
While there is a lot of effort around preventing injuries, not enough is done in regard to post-concussion awareness, Caron said.
In Brookline, town recreation officials conduct baseline screening for all 11 to 14 year-old kids involved in youth sports.
Lisa Paradis, recreation director, said she and her staff realized parents and volunteer coaches needed more education and awareness around concussions. They started a local marketing campaign last spring called “Heads Up Brookline,” and mandated that all coaches and volunteers in youth sports undergo concussion training.
Paradis said they worked to make sure volunteer coaches had enough knowledge to make the right decision when a child comes off the field with a head injury.
Rep. Cory Atkins, a Democrat from Concord, told lawmakers she has experienced what happens when coaches do not make the right decisions following a concussion.
Atkins said she lived through the “nightmare” of having a child injured by a debilitating concussion. Her daughter Casey had two concussions, one while playing as a lacrosse goalie at George Washington University. Coaches and doctors said she was alright to play, Atkins said.
Atkins insisted her daughter come back to Boston for further neurological tests. She said her daughter’s coaches harassed her for not continuing to play.
“Her coaches said ‘you are not the stuff of an athlete,’” Atkins testified.
Two neurologists determined her concussion was too severe for her to play. For a year, she had to let her brain heal, and she will always be restricted from some physical activities, like skiing and ice skating, because of the risk of another concussion, Atkins said.
Atkins sponsored a bill (H 1887) aimed at concussion prevention. She said she would like to see standards in place so there is no question about what happens to student athletes.