ISU Professor Works to Educate High School Coaches and Athletes about the Danger of Concussions
Fall 2010 Issue | By Emily Frandsen
In the fall of 2005, high school senior Kort Breckenridge was looking towards a bright future. He was a four-sport standout at Teton High School in Driggs, and had lots of friends and a talent for singing.
And he was tough. He convinced his skeptical father that he could take the field and play football, despite previous head injuries. After all, he had followed doctor's orders.
"It's a guilt thing I still have today," Kort's father Ray said. "I never dreamed something would happen of this magnitude."
On Senior Night that October, Kort took the field. After a routine tackle, he struggled to stand up. Within a few minutes he was seizing - unconscious and unresponsive. Ray, a registered nurse, immediately called for Life Flight, and watched as his son got worse, gasping for each breath.
"I honestly didn't think he'd leave Driggs," Breckenridge said.
Kort was rushed to the nearest trauma facility. He remained in the hospital for three months. At one point, doctors removed the entire right side of his skull in an effort to relieve cranial pressure. Many times, no one, not even his family, thought he would live.
"It wasn't day by day or hour by hour," Ray Breckenridge said. "It was literally minute by minute."
Kort did live, and has since made steady progress. He still loves to laugh and inspire others to do the same. He likes to tell stories of playing jokes on playing jokes on children in the hospital, and in a lot of ways, he's a typical young man.
He walks with a slight limp. His short-term memory is gone, Ray said. Sometimes, he doesn't remember an event that happened 15 minutes prior. For Kort and his family, it is beyond frustrating.
"He's destroyed by it," Ray said. "Some days he's perky, happy, funny. Some days the light switch never goes on."
Devastating injuries such as Kort's are the scenario Dr. Caroline Fauré, Idaho State University sports science professor, wants to avoid through her research and educational programs.
"(Concussion) is a serious injury. This is a very serious injury," she says. "I don't want players to have catastrophic outcomes."
In addition to her role at Idaho State University, Fauré and her husband Brent, are owners of Tri-Med, a company that provides athletic training services to sporting events and teams. She also worked for years as an athletic trainer for high school sports including football.
For her doctoral dissertation, Fauré studied what coaches knew about concussion. What she learned was that many times, although they wanted to keep their players safe, they knew very little.
"They were going on almost archaic information," she said. "Coaches want to do the right thing. They want to keep their kids safe. They want to know what the right thing is."
So Fauré created an outreach educational program for coaches and parents, creating objective-based measurements to help coaches and parents better gauge an athlete's recovery.
"It's taking the guesswork out of concussion management," she said. "To me, the concussion isn't the scary part. It's the return to play."
For teens and children with concussions, total rest is important because the developing brain heals more slowly and can sustain a concussion more easily. Returning to play too soon and sustaining another concussion before the first has healed can lead to Second Impact Syndrome, Fauré said. The syndrome causes rapid swelling of the brain, with little hope for recovery.
At her website, knowconcussion.org, coaches can download sheets with quick measurements to help them deal with concussions, rest periods and return to play.
She also hopes to give more people access to neurocognitive testing through a software-based testing program that can give medical professionals, trainers and coaches a way to measure injury from concussion without relying on players relaying symptoms. She is starting the Center for Sports Concussion, a place where athletes can come to be tested.
During the 2010 Idaho legislative session, Fauré lobbied for a bill that would have required coaches to perform concussion testing. Legislators opted not to require testing, but passed a bill that required coaches to receive information about concussion treatment.
Fauré plans to return to the legislature again next session, but she is happy about the strides Idaho has made in concussion education. Idaho is the fourth state to address the issue.
"What it has done has been monumental in the state of Idaho," she said. "This time we're driving the bandwagon."
Ray Breckenridge worked with Fauré in the legislature, and he now talks to student athletes and parents about the importance of concussion awareness. Many athletes, like Kort, don't want to seem weak, and don't relay symptoms, he said.
Breckenridge encourages parents to look for subtle signs of head injuries, such as lowered grades and forgetfulness.
"You have to get through to them that this Superman attitude doesn't work," he said. "Get to know your kids. Get to know what's normal for them. I look back now on some of the subtle hints."