Tampa Bay

Second Impact Injury

As Ryne Dougherty stepped onto the practice field with his football teammates at Montclair High School in New Jersey on September 18, 2008, he was determined to prove to his coaches that he was ready to be a varsity player. Fifteen minutes into practice the junior linebacker, standing 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 180 pounds, joined in on the tackle of a varsity player. As the play ended and the other players returned to their positions, Ryne was still on his back, complaining that his head hurt. When the school’s athletic trainer arrived on scene Ryne told her “I am dizzy and have a headache.” Minutes later, Ryne was vomiting as well.

Some 25 days later Ryne was back on the field for a junior varsity game against New Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco Prep. During a play in the first quarter Ryne was knocked on his back while attempting to make a tackle. After the play he was on the ground grabbing his head and clearly in pain. Although Ryne was able to get to his feet with the help of teammates, he collapsed before reaching the sideline and soon after fell into a coma. Ryne would die just two dies later.

In September of this year, the Montclair Board of Education agreed to pay Ryne’s family $2.8 million to settle a 2009 negligence lawsuit alleging that the school’s decision to let their son back on the field led to the 16-year-old’s death. Experts hired by Ryne’s family attribute his death to Second Impact Syndrome (SIS), an affliction that leaves its victims vulnerable to even the most minor blow to the head because the brain has yet to heal from a previous injury. Victims are almost always adolescents.

While this tragic story occurred outside of Florida, the issue of SIS and young athletes is especially relevant here in the Tampa Bay area where high school football is both highly competitive and popular. It is certainly a topic that young athletes and their parents would be wise to become more informed about what, including what SIS is and how it can be prevented.

SIS consists of two events. Typically, it involves an athlete suffering post-concussive symptoms following a head injury. If, within several weeks, the athlete returns to play and sustains a second head injury, cerebral swelling, brain herniation, and death can occur. While rare, SIS is especially devastating in that young, healthy patients can potentially die within a few minutes. Consequently, it is vital that physicians correctly diagnose concussion symptoms and counsel young patients and their parents when it is safe for the athlete to return to play. Unfortunately, in Ryne Dougherty’s case, a lack of oversight from both his own doctor and the school’s athletic trainer led to a preventable tragedy occurring.

So what can be done to prevent this from occurring again in the future? Doctors say that any athlete who still shows signs of concussion should not be allowed to return to play. Such signs include fatigue, headache, disorientation, nausea, vomiting, feeling “in a fog” or “slowed down”, as well as other differences from a patient’s baseline. The American Academy of Neurology has also released guidelines for the Management of Sport-Related Concussion. That being said, the difficulty lies in deciding the appropriate return to play when the athlete is completely asymptomatic. Parents, teachers, and coaches must observe the athlete closely. High school athletes, especially those with scholarship opportunities, will likely try and convince parents and coaches that they feel fine, in order to resume play sooner. If there are any doubts as to the severity of the injury, the patient or athlete should not be allowed to resume play.

If you or someone you know suffered a brain injury due to the failure of others to follow proper concussion guidelines it’s important to know what rights you have. You should consider contacting an attorney with experience handling brain injury cases who can help you evaluate whether you are entitled to compensation for your injuries. The qualified attorney’s at Dolman Law Group are here to help and can be reached at 727-451-6900. To read more about our practice please visit http://www.dolmanlaw.com/practice-area/brain-injury/

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