The Heightening Awareness About Brain Injuries
Traumatic brain injuries have always been an issue, but after 9.11 with the service members returning home with TBI and PTSD plus concussed athletes at all levels making the news, awareness started to bubble more rapidly.
I think everybody's concerned because the world changed after 9/11. There's been a perfect storm of traumatic brain injury. So listen, concussion has been around since the beginning of time. We have an evolving knowledge of that. You see these high-profile hockey players, like Sid Crosby, being injured. He was out 8½ months. Steve Young's career was ended by a concussion--the football player. You see these famous football players or soccer stars or rugby stars getting knocked out of games, and it makes the news. So that was happening. Then 9/11 happened, and we sent soldiers-- young men and women--to Afghanistan and Iraq, and they were coming back with traumatic brain injuries. If you listen to General Chiarelli, who is of monumental importance in this whole story, he stood up in front of Congress, in front of the media and said, "Look, if we look at all the soldiers coming back, 67% of the soldiers that are wounded have come back with either PTSD or TBI--traumatic brain injury." That's huge. No one ever got up in front of the public and said that before. So now all of a sudden, these blast injuries that are occurring from IEDs--roadside IEDs-- that are affecting the young men and women that are serving, really affect all of us, because we all know somebody who is over in Iraq and Afghanistan. And when they come back with a concussion or traumatic brain injury, it's starting to make sense to us. And then, the famous case of Zach Lystedt. Zach Lystedt was a young boy who played football in Washington state--the state I come from. He was injured, had a bad blood clot in his head because he got sent back, after he had a concussion, several times into the game. His parents decided, you know, we've gone around the country educating people, so now what we have to do is legislate. And they passed the first Zach Lystedt Law that said three simple things. Number 1: Every child, every coach, every parent needs to understand the risks of a concussion, whether you play soccer, hockey, baseball, basketball, or football. Number 2: If you get injured-- if they even think you have a concussion-- if in doubt, you sit them out. So you take them out of the game, and they do not return. They don't return to that game; they don't return to practice until--number three-- they are cleared by a healthcare provider. Somebody who is an expert in concussion will evaluate them and slowly return them back to practice or play. So that law came out in Washington state in 2009. To this day I'm very proud that we now have it in 30 states plus the District of Columbia. Last night, California passed the bill to protect youth athletes. So this is a big deal. Everybody is interested in it. It affects youth athletes. Huge impact in the military, and then of course in professional sports, which has an enormous trickle-down effect to college sports--NCAA-- then youth sports then pee-wee sports. So I think everybody knows somebody who plays a sport or has a family member or friend in the military or picks up the paper and it's on the front page of the Washington Post, New York Times, or the Seattle Times. So I think it's timely. I think we're now recognizing-- --the CDC is tracking this--1.7 million people get a traumatic brain injury every year. 1.7 million--that's a lot of people. 52,000 people die every year of this. So it has caught our attention, and it's captivated our interest with all this media attention.
Posted on BrainLine October 23, 2012.
Produced by Vicky Youcha, Ashley Gilleland, Justin Rhodes, and Erica Queen, BrainLine.
Richard Ellenbogen, MD is a University of Washington professor and chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery. He is chief and attending of neurological surgery, Harborview Medical Center and the co-chair of the NFL's Head, Neck, and Spine Committee.