A recently released study reinforces the importance of legislation to protect athletes from sports-related concussions.
Dr. Barbara Semakula, who is currently pursuing a fellowship in Sports Medicine at Harvard University, was involved in the effort to get legislation approved in Michigan while she was the chief resident in Oakwood Physical Medicine & Rehab department under Jay Meythaler, MD, director of the PM & R residency program at Oakwood Heritage Hospital.
Oakwood physicians help improve safety for athletes
Dr. Semakula led the Head’s Up Program for Sports Concussion Education and Screening, which was a partnership with Oakwood Healthcare, the Detroit Lions and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The effort also included collaboration between the Wayne State University Athletic Department, the Michigan High School Athletic Association and the Brain Injury Association of Michigan to get increased education materials created and support for the legislation in Michigan.
Concussion legislation designed to protect student athletes, promote awareness
Published by Boston University School of Medicine researchers, the study finds new evidence linking repeated concussions to long-term brain injury, based on autopsies performed on the brains of 85 donors. It comes at a time when mounting concerns over the dangers of head injuries in contact sports have prompted legislation protecting young people and calls for an outright ban of tackle football for younger children.
“At every stage of every game, there is an overall risk of these kinds of injuries,” said Barbara Semakula, MD. “Children are more vulnerable to concussions because their brains are still developing.”
The legislation seeks to protect young athletes without causing a financial burden for school districts. It requires student athletes to be removed from games if they suffer a suspected concussion and returned to play only with the written approval of a healthcare professional. It also asks the Michigan Department of Community Health to provide resources for concussion training and education.
Dr. Semakula was involved in the issue since 2009, when the State of Washington became the first of several to enact the legislation, named after 13-year-old Zachary Lystedt. Lystedt was a football player who slipped into a coma and required brain surgery after suffering two concussions in a single game.
“If you don’t take them out of play, there’s an increased chance of another concussion,” she said. “We’re finding more and more evidence of the long-term effects that can result from these kinds of injuries and we need to take every safeguard available to protect our children. The brain is not a replaceable part of the body, like a knee or shoulder.”
She said the goal was to get three states every year to approve legislation protecting young athletes, but since then 40 other states have put them in place. Mid-December hearings were held in Ohio. “Nobody expected this to happen so fast,” said Dr. Semakula, “but it’s an important safety issue. We were able to make a compelling case for it.”