JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Neurologist Dr. Daniel Kantor puts it this way: "You wouldn't take a kid who's injured his knee and make him run on it. Same thing with the brain."
He's talking about concussions in high school athletes. The key is making sure you know if your athlete's had a concussion so he or she can recover.
Dr. Kantor said too often, concussions are never discovered.
But the ImPACT test can help solve that problem. It is a 30-minute test on a computer that gives a baseline of what the athlete's normal brain activity is.
The athlete answers memory questions, for example. Words, such as "pear" and "file," appear in a rather long list. Then the program asks if, say, "pear" or "knife," was in the list.
The various tests results are stored in case the athlete takes a blow to the head. If that happens, ImPACT tests are repeated to look for changes. The information can help a doctor decide if an athlete should have further testing for concussion and if the athlete is eventually ready to return to play.
The test is free, thanks to a grant to the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program.
All high school and middle school athletes, including cheerleaders, can be tested at no charge in Duval and Nassau counties.
The trouble is, the program just started in 2012, and most athletes are not getting tested. According to Robert Sefcik at JSMP, of the approximately 16,000 athletes in Duval County Public Schools, only 3,309 have been tested.
How can that be solved?
Jaguars Hall of Fame member Mark Brunell said parents "should demand" that their schools join in the ImPACT program. The JSMP test givers will come to the school to help at no charge.
Brunell said at Episcopal, he's seen what a benefit the baseline testing can be. He said our children's health and their academic futures should be top priority. He said, "If a concussion isn't addressed properly, who cares about what happens on the field."
Episcopal student Tatum Thompson said she's "extremely thankful" for the ImPACT testing because without it, she may never have known she had a concussion. She received a blow to her head during cheerleading.
Theresa Adams, an Episcopal Athletic Trainer from Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute, said Tatum's ImPACT test clearly showed changes in the tests from before and after the cheerleading accident. The color red on the computer data is "a huge red flag."
Tatum was active in cheerleading, but after her concussion, she's changed to rowing, a sport she loves now. Tatum was grateful for Episcopal's concussion recovery program. It allowed her to "freeze" her grades, still attend class when the doctor cleared her and transition back into full activities.
She admits, though, that the prescribed recovery at home was frustrating. She was supposed to stay in a dark room, avoid texting, video games, and TV, and just stay quiet for four weeks. She gave it her best shot and she's glad. Tatum knows concussions can have devastating effects.
Dr. Kantor says, "Concussion is traumatic brain injury. Period."
And, yes, he says, it "can cause bad grades."
Students with concussions have watched their grades drop from, in some cases, honor roll level to Cs and Ds. Dr. Kantor said the concussion literally "shakes up your head" and "shakes the circuitry that gets these good grades." That's why proper recovery is critical.
But you can't recover if you don't know you have a concussion.
JSPM employees will begin the next round of ImPACT testing in April.
In St. Johns County, schools handle baseline testing on a school-by-school basis.
In Clay County, Director of Secondary Education, Michael Wingate, said, "...we would like to provide the ImPACT service to all of our student/athletes, but that is not financially feasible." However, funding from Orange Park Medical Center provides free testing to male and female soccer and football players.
If you are in Duval or Nassau counties, contact your high school or middle school and ask about ImPACT testing.
You can request your school contact the JSPM program, which goes to schools to give ImPACT testing. The contact person is Robert Sefcik at 904-202-4332. His email: Robert.Sefcik@bmcjax.com
Also, JSPM is encouraging physicians to attend the Sports Injury Symposium 2014 on April 11-12 in Jacksonville. National and local experts will give the latest on concussion assessment, state law, ImPACT interpretation, and more.
A tour of the Jaguars facilities is included. The contact at JSMP is Jim Mackie firstname.lastname@example.org