Harry Carson Leads Concussion Discussion Among High School Athletes

May 17, 2017
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Speaking about concussions were Jeremy Norman, PT, DPT; Kristine Keane, Psy.D.; former New York Giant team captain Harry Carson, and Stephanie Reynolds, D.O., MBA, FACEP.

By John Sorce |

RED BANK – Former National Football League (NFL) linebacker and lifetime New York Giant Harry Carson, 63, led a discussion on concussions among high school athletes at the Victoria J. Mastrobuono Library at Two River Theater on Wednesday, May 3.

“This is an issue that is very much near and dear to my heart,” Carson said. “I played during an era in which you just kind of shook it off when you saw stars and got back on the field.

“I didn’t realize what was going on until two years after I left football. I went to my doctor for my yearly physical. At the end he said everything was fine, but he asked if I had anything else going on. I told him about my issues with bright lights and loud noises. I went down the list of issues I was dealing with and he referred me to a specialist. I went and got tested and the diagnosis came back as mild post-concussion syndrome.”

A sports-related concussion is defined as traumatic brain injury induced by bio-mechanical forces. They may be caused by either a direct blow to the head, face or neck or elsewhere on the body with an impulsive force transmitted to the head.

Kristine Keane, Psy.D., System Wide Clinical Director of Hackensack Meridian Health, began the event by explaining the dif ferent concussion recommendations. The Zurich pediatric concussion guidelines, which originated in 2001, were “more like a consensus statement.”

These guidelines were expanded and renewed in 2008 and again in 2012 before the Berlin guidelines were discussed in October 2016 during the fifth international conference on concussion in sport. The Berlin guidelines were released this year.

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That switch is what brought Old Bridge High School athletic trainer Ralph Di Iorio to the event. “I want to continue to update my knowledge for concussion evaluation and treatment,” Di Iorio said. “They talked about the new guidelines that came out. Knowing those changes are going to help us stay current with our treatment and evaluations of concussions at the high school level.”

Keane noted that the new guidelines are in the British Journal of Medicine and can be downloaded for free.

There has been an estimated increase from 1.1 to 1.9 million sports and recreation-related concussions occuring in children 18 or younger annually. Kids are more involved in sports and playing more frequently on travel teams, and that added exposure is what Keane believes is leading to this increase.

Despite popular opinion, extended rest is not recommended for concussions and may actually prolong symptoms. “The whole idea is you give the brain rest and time to recover. But we don’t know how much or how long, or if that’s even doing anything,” Keane said. “We want to get the kids right back to school in some way. When we prescribe rest for long periods, we are actually creating more problems.”

Regardless of the modern enhancements the game of football is trying to provide to protect its players, Stephanie Reynolds, D.O., chairman of Emergency Medicine at Riverview Medical Center, stated there is nothing that can be done when it comes to protecting the head. “Helmets are only as good as the brain that’s inside. I always tell parents there is no helmet that will protect their child’s brain,” she said.

Carson wants coaches, athletic directors, trainers and especially parents to know what children are getting themselves into before they sign up. “Every parent needs to understand the neurological risks before allowing their kids to play football,” Carson said. “Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of people who have played at the high school level who are now in their twenties and they are dealing with some serious behavioral problems that can be traced back to the hits that they took when they played contact sports in high school.”

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If Carson was never diagnosed, he does not know where he would be today. “I was very fortunate in retrospect to be diagnosed because what I was dealing with was something that I kept to myself,” he said. “There were times where I thought I was literally going crazy because I really didn’t know what was going on.”

Carson owes a lot to the game of football. He had a 13-year career in the NFL, making the Pro Bowl nine times, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He does not want his grandson to suffer from football’s side effects. “If I knew then what I know now, I would be very hesitant to play the game again,” Carson said. “I don’t want to be a ‘Debbie Downer’ here, but this issue of concussions is very real. When my grandson, who is seven now, was two or three years old, I made a decision then that he will not play football. He can play any other sport, but he knows he’s not playing football.”

Reynolds noted she never negotiates with her kids; she strictly lays out the facts. At the end of the day, the parents have a difficult decision to make. But for Reynolds, the choice is clear. “If you decide that your child’s brain is not as important as a $50,000 [scholarship], that’s on you.” she said.

This article was first published in the May 11-18, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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