Protecting Young Brains with Books

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As the mother of a serious equestrian and as a former soccer coach, I’ve always had concerns about head injuries and concussions. Just a few years ago, everyone I knew considered wearing helmets when riding unpredictable horses; on the soccer field, we had a vague idea of what to look for when a player took a blow to the head. Then, my daughter’s idol–former Olympic rider Courtney King Dye–sustained a life-changing head injury after falling off a horse. Around the same time, the mother of several soccer athletes I had coached was in a car accident and also had serious brain injury. I began to learn more about these injuries, and what I learned was scary.

On a larger scale, people all around were starting to talk more seriously about head trauma, helmets, and rule changes in sports, and high school coaches like me began receiving real training in identifying concussions in athletes. Now, serious changes have happened in the equestrian world, and helmets have become the norm. In high school sports, most athletes must now do a pre-season Concussions Symptom Inventory (a series of basic questions about time and place, memory, balance, etc.) so that in the event of a blow to the head, a comparison could be made. After a potential concussion, the athlete would answer the same questions, and the responses would be compared to the baseline data in order to monitor the brain’s recovery.

Equestrian sports and soccer aside, today’s athletic directors and sports organizations have been focusing the most scrutiny on football, a very popular sport among even very young athletes, where the point is to knock one another around as brutally as possible. Just in time for the 2013 fall football season are two books that should make it into the hands of any athlete–football player or otherwise.

“The human brain is not fully developed until about the age of twenty-five. Repetitive brain trauma on still-developing brains puts young people at risk.” Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment by Carla Killough McClafferty covers a timely subject in a very thorough and compelling way, describing numerous research studies and real-life stories about traumatic brain injury (TBI) in football, the high-school sport in which most concussions occur. The author explains traumatic brain injury and second-impact syndrome (SIS), which occurs when a concussion is overlooked, undiagnosed, or ignored. Because a concussion cannot be medically diagnosed through any brain scan or blood test, the only way to know is to determine a difference in brain function by looking at symptoms (at least 26 are possible). Second-impact syndrome–a second blow to the head before all symptoms disappear from the first one–can be fatal. Most survivors have permanent disabilities.

The engaging text and attractive layout of this book work to make this timely subject accessible to everyone. This is important  information we all should be aware of as parents, athletes, coaches, and educators. (ISBN 9781467710671. Gr 7-12.)

3152485Second Impact: Making the Hardest Call of All by David Klass and Perri Klass is a fictional depiction of the above-mentioned phenomena, SIS. The premise is a blog-based exchange on the Kendall Kourier–an online high school newspaper–between student reporter extraordinaire, Clara Jenson, and senior quarterback, Jerry Downing. After reflecting on her own soccer injury, an ACL tear, and the subsequent surgery and recovery, Clara becomes interested in the head injuries that football players regularly suffer. Jerry sustains just such an injury, and while his seems relatively minor, his best friend, Dan, gets hit a couple weeks later. As Clara talks to Dan and does some research on the topics of TBI and SIS, she is told to stop her investigative endeavor–or else.

The brother-sister team of David Klass (Firestorm; You Don’t Know Me) and Perri Klass, a pediatrician and author of adult novels, does a great job of bringing the seriousness of head injury to the forefront in this compelling read. (ISBN 9780374379964. Gr 9-12.)

–Blogger: Lori C. Lori