New concussion diagnostic tool helps injured GCHS athlete
by Jeff Richards
contributing writer
Oct 25, 2012 | 1902 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cameron Taylor leaves the field after suffering a concussion during Sept. 7 game against San Juan. Photo by Jeff Richards
Cameron Taylor leaves the field after suffering a concussion during Sept. 7 game against San Juan. Photo by Jeff Richards
Cameron Taylor, a junior running back at Grand County High School, took a hard hit to the helmet while running down the sidelines after catching a pass during the Red Devils’ home game against San Juan on Sept. 7.

That play came just before halftime of the contest, which San Juan ended up winning 38-6. Taylor did return to action briefly in the second half, but soon suffered a second jarring hit, which ripped the helmet from his head.

When coaches and trainers went out onto the field to check on him, local physician Dr. John Sanders first made sure that Taylor didn’t have any outward physical injuries. Meanwhile, from the sidelines, sports medicine orthopedist Dr. Alex Meininger, who specializes in concussions, watched Taylor for signs of such an injury.

Based on his observations, Meininger informed Taylor he had to sit out the remainder of the game.

“Later, I found out it was because my eyes were a little distal and I was acting unusual,” Taylor recalled.

Shortly afterward, Meininger had Taylor re-take a short computerized diagnostic test that was introduced as a pilot program at Grand County High School this fall.

Meininger said the program, called ImPACT (which stands for Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) is a computer-based test of memory, coordination and spatial recognition.

Each of the athletes on Grand County High’s football and girls’ soccer teams took the baseline test in the school’s library at the onset of the season, Meininger said.

“It is like an X-ray for the brain. It helps doctors, trainers and therapists better understand when the concussion is improving and when it is too early to get back on the field,” Meininger said, noting that any traumatic head injury, even one that doesn’t produce a loss of consciousness, can result in a concussion.

Taylor said that when he took the ImPACT test the second time, it revealed a significant drop in reaction time from his initial baseline scores from before the injury.

“The next week, I did physical tests to make sure activity didn’t invoke headaches,” Taylor recalled, noting that he missed the Red Devils’ next contest at Richfield on Sept. 14. “I also failed that at first, but later that week passed both that and the computer test,” he said.

“It definitely helped me with my confidence knowing I was ready to return,” Taylor said.

Taylor not only returned to action for the Red Devils’ Sept. 21 game at Parowan, he scored three touchdowns in the 47-0 shutout win over the Rams. Taylor, who also plays defense as an inside linebacker, hasn’t missed any games since then, and the Red Devils (now 6-3) are set to open the 2A playoffs with a home contest on Friday, Oct. 26 against Millard.

Meininger said the ImPACT program fully complies with Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) guidelines that mandate appropriate care for all athletes who suffer concussions. Meininger said the program is already in use by the U.S. Army, several professional sports leagues, and hundreds of college, high school, and club teams all over the country. Grand County High is now one of about 40 high schools in Utah that are using the program, according to ImPACT’s own website.

“We hope to eventually have a database of baseline ImPACT scores for every student,” Meininger said. “With the high speed, high energy activities here in Moab, there’s no telling who might eventually suffer a head injury.”

“The difficulty with concussion testing and clearance for return to play, from a team physician perspective, is relying on the athlete for accurate reporting,” Meininger said, adding, “Do you still have symptoms? No? Or do you just want to play again Friday night? It has historically been hard to get to the real truth. With ImPACT, the doctor now knows when the concussion is improved when the athlete’s test scores return to normal.”

Meininger explained that when a concussion injury is sustained, the physical impact causes cells in the brain to function abnormally. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, decreased attention span, sensitivity to light, difficulty thinking, remembering or finding the right word. Teenagers may often demonstrate increased irritability, sleepiness or difficulty sleeping, he said.

“The real danger comes if the athlete is injured again before a complete recovery,” Meininger said, adding, “If the cells in the brain remain excitable and another trauma occurs, it can induce what doctors call ‘second impact syndrome.’ And the effects can be devastating with a potential for long-term brain damage, coma or even death.”

Meininger said he secured funding for the project thanks to a generous community grant from Dick’s Sporting Goods.

“I couldn’t have done it without the support of [GCHS administrators] Stephen Hren, Lance LeVar and Ron Dolphin,” he said, adding, “Moab Regional Hospital medical staff coordinator Keven Lange was also instrumental. I feel this truly is a collaborative multidisciplinary project. It really shows how far we can go when we work together.”

Meininger said he first became familiar with ImPACT during his sports medicine training and care of NCAA Division III Athletes at the University of Chicago.

“Our work as U.S. Ski team physicians, however, really demonstrated the importance of accurate concussion care and I am proud to bring it here to Grand County,” Meininger said.

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