Tag Archives: Kevin Saum

Fixing Concussions with Band-Aid’s: How Effective is the NFL’s Defenseless Receiver Rule?

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By Kevin Saum

Improving health and safety in football became a passion of mine after I suffered from second impact syndrome while playing in a high school football game and fell victim to the culture of toughness that exists in all sports. Despite the fact that football nearly took my life, to this day I still love the game and I do not regret one play from my 10 years of participation. Many of my fondest memories are from playing high school football and I credit the game and my coaches for making me the man I am today. Because of the intense passion I have for football, I become infuriated when I see professional players undermining the NFL’s attempts to make the game safer by taking cheap shots on defenseless receivers. Continue reading

What’s A Life Worth To You? The Absolute Importance Of Athletic Trainers In High School Sports

{Editor’s Note: I can think of no one better to speak to the need and value of Athletic Trainers in high school sports than someone whose life was literally saved on the playing field by an AT. Kevin Saum can claim that honor. Kevin is a Knockout Project Round Table member and his bio is available on this page .- Jay}

By Kevin Saum

saummudMore than 50% of high school students in the United States do not have the luxury of having an athletic trainer on the sidelines of their games and practices.  Yet athletic trainers are standard in collegiate and professional sports.  This reality is highly questionable considering that the underdeveloped, youth brain is at the greatest risk of injury.  In addition, studies have shown that young athletes take longer to heal from brain injuries, compared to the brains of more physically mature athletes. Why is it that school districts and policy makers are willing to implement safety changes AFTER a fatal, or near death incident occurs?  I often wonder what would have happened to me if Miss Barba were not on the sideline the night I was injured.  I venture to guess that you would not be reading this blog post.

After reading The Concussion Blog’s March 4th post, which recognized March as National Athletic Trainers month and encouraged readers to give a shout out to their favorite athletic trainers, one AT immediately came to mind.  Despite my lack of punctuality, I would like to recognize an Athletic Trainer at a high school, “set in the valley” in Chester, New Jersey.  Suzanne Barba, “Miss Barba” to all the students, is West Morris Central’s Athletic Trainer of thirty years, and not only mends bumps and bruises, but also touches the lives of every athlete she tapes, rehabs and teaches. Suzanne is also responsible for saving my life in a high school football game on October 5, 2007.  I do not remember very much from this night, but it is a night that undoubtedly changed my life forever.

As an athlete, one place you never want to be is in the athletic training room.  Being in this room either means you are out of the game, multiple games, the season, and possibly forever.  Just ask Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers, what happens when you go into this room.  Players would rather risk their long-term health and careers to stay out of this room, and look  where that got Robert Griffin III. I was a senior captain and a product of playing in a sports culture, which frequently glorified playing through injuries.   I naturally felt obligated to play injured in what was our team’s last chance to make a run for the playoffs.  In week two of the season, I sustained a separated shoulder, and Miss Barba tended to this injury for the few weeks leading up to my last game.  In the meantime, I strained the rotator cuff in the opposite shoulder, which instinctively left my head as the only blocking/tackling tool to use.  Naturally, like any competitor, I refused to let these ailments keep me off of the field.  However, after playing with these injuries and leading every hit I made with my head, I sustained a concussion. It should be noted that I was never officially diagnosed with a concussion, because I did not inform anyone about the excruciating headaches I was experiencing.  I never told a doctor, my parents, my coaches and certainly not Miss Barba.  She would never have let me play if she knew about my headache.

As I have alluded to previously on this blog, I unsuccessfully attempted to suppress the pain with four Advil and ran out under the glow of the Friday night lights for what turned out to be the very last time.  Just before halftime in this game I received a significant blow to the head, which left me unable to feel my legs.  With my history of chronic leg cramps in hot-weather games, everyone assumed it was just another cramp, as my teammates helped me to the sideline.  Because of Miss Barba’s experience as an EMT and Paramedic, she knew my condition was something much worse than leg cramps.  Upon recognizing my right-sided gaze, a common sign of a subdural hematoma (brain bleed), Miss Barba called for Advanced Life Support, and luckily a helicopter was in the area, on its way back from another call.  The doctor on the sideline was initially surprised by this request, until moments later, when I began to seize.  Miss Barba’s role did not stop at calling for appropriate medical attention.  She was also the one assisting my breathing with a bag valve mask when I went into respiratory failure, because of the brain swelling that ensued from second impact syndrome. The breathing assistance prevented brain damage and ultimately saved my life.

At that time, In 2007, Miss Barba was only a part-time athletic trainer because she was also responsible for teaching health classes during the day.  Due to a lack of time and resources, this work schedule prevented her from implementing baseline concussion testing and working with athletes to rehab their injuries.  Fortunately, in the year following my injury, Miss Barba was made our high school’s full-time athletic trainer.  Now, thanks to Miss Barba’s exceptional work and overwhelming support from parents, our school has a very thorough graduated return to play (RTP) protocol for its athletes.  This RTP process includes input from the strength and conditioning coach, to aid in implementing the graded physical activity protocol. Athletic trainers and strength coaches spend a lot of time with athletes, both during the season and in the offseason.  During this time they get to know the athletes personalities and ability levels.  They can identify when athletes are not acting like themselves, similar to how parents can, but in an athletic environment.   ATs specialize in diagnosing and treating injuries, while strength coaches have a great understanding of each individual athletes physical capabilities.  This collaboration between AT and Strength Coach, during the evaluation of an athlete’s RTP, allows for an appropriately stringent evaluation. The intricacies of Miss Barba’s RTP procedure meet, and I feel exceed, the standards set in place by the AmericanAcademy of neurology.  As a result, Suzanne believes that athletes feel safer and more confident returning to their sports, after passing this test.

On average, 12 football players die every year due to heart conditions, brain injuries and heat-related causes. Most of these deaths could be prevented with an AT overseeing athletic operations.  Athletic Trainers carry AEDs on the sidelines and could save the life of an athlete who has a heart condition.  Without ATs, concussions cannot be adequately managed due to conflicts of interest that exist in sport. Although athletic trainers have limited control in preventing brain injuries, other than educating athletes, nearly all brain injury related deaths could be avoided if concussions are managed properly.  On hot summer days, AT’s monitor the heat index and have the authority to cancel practice if conditions are too dangerous.  In addition, ATs ensure athletes are properly hydrated, which also prevents heat-related deaths.

Recently, the AmericanAcademy of Neurology published their updated return to play guidelines for concussions.  Most notably, they make the following recommendations:

  • The use of baseline testing.
  • Immediately removing a player from play when a concussion is suspected.
  • Individuals supervising the athletes should prohibit an athlete with concussion from returning to play until a Licensed Health Care Provider (LHCP) has judged that the concussion has been resolved.
  • Licensed Health Care Providers should develop individualized graded plans for return to physical and cognitive activity.

These recommendations are based on research and when implemented, they undoubtedly will make sports safer to play.  However, without the presence of an athletic trainer, their feasibility and intended efficiency are significantly hindered.  Not all parents can afford to take their children to LHCPs.  Who will recognize and remove an athlete from play when a potential concussion occurs?  The coaches? Who are trying to win a game and have a million other things and kids to worry about?  Wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest?  Where is the accountability in returning an athlete to play without an AT? Are coaches now going to be responsible for recording injuries and validating their athlete’s medical notes?  Are physicians going to be responsible for administering graded physical activity tests, with no prior knowledge of the individual’s abilities? All of these questions are answered when Athletic Trainers are looking after players.

Clearly, every athletic program would choose to have an Athletic Trainer if they were not faced by budget constraints.  I owe my life to an Athletic Trainer, which is why I am very passionate about the issue.  Considering all the statistics in regards to the dangers on the sports fields and the obvious safety and life saving benefits an athletic trainer brings, I ask the school districts, policy makers and parents, how much is a life worth to you?

Alex Smith Link:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1426269-alex-smiths-benching-could-set-nfl-concussion-safety-back-for-decades?utm_term=NFL+Football&utm_content=NFL&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

RG III Link:

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/sports/Shanahan-Wanted-to-Believe-RGIII-Could-Play-Injured-185822561.html

AmericanAcademy of Neurology Guidelines:

http://neurology.org/content/early/2013/03/15/WNL.0b013e31828d57dd.full.pdf+html

Twelve football players die every year:

http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/05/17621060-12-school-football-players-die-each-year-study-finds?lite

 

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 Suzanne Barba takes care of Michael Burton, who currently plays fullback at Rutgers University

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I think she did a good job. Ed Mulholland/US Presswire Photo

 

 

 

 

 

NJ HS Football Player and Current Georgetown Grad Student, Survivor of Second Impact Syndrome, On What Motivates Him To Raise Concussion Awareness

By Kevin Saum

saum1In Steve Job’s commencement address to the class of 2005 at Stanford University, he made a profound statement which impacted me greatly.  While speaking about his road to success, he stated, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.”  This quote describes the events in my life, which have led me to become an advocate for concussion awareness.

In practice, the morning after our game versus Livingston High School, I began to experience excruciating headaches. These headaches were unlike any I ever had before.  While running at practice, it felt as though my brain was bouncing inside my skull.  As a two-way starter at fullback and linebacker, I liked to think I was a physical player, but I was avoiding contact in practice and voluntarily took zero’s to sit out in gym class in the days leading up to our next game, because my head was hurting so badly.  At that time, concussion awareness was just beginning to pick up momentum and I was extremely uneducated about the injury. I was under the impression, that if I was not knocked unconscious, vomiting, nauseous, and had no memory problems, my headaches could not be the result of a concussion.  Also, as a senior captain, I was afraid to tell my coaches and our athletic trainer about my headaches.  At seventeen years old, my main mission in life was try to win a state championship with my team and for my coach to think I was tough.  Sitting out of practice and missing our next game because of a headache was certainly not going to help my cause.  Therefore, that option was out of the question.

On the day of our next game, I did participate in gym class.  However, while running around the track for our warm up, I ‘jokingly’ mentioned to some friends that I was probably going to die that night in the game.   I said this because of the excruciating headache I was still experiencing.  Nevertheless, I swallowed four Advil, and ran out onto the football field for what turned out to be the very last time.

It was an eerily foggy Friday night in October 2007 that ultimately led me to where I am today.  It was a night when my hopes and dreams as a seventeen-year-old high school senior instantly became physically unattainable. At the end of the first quarter, while reaching for the goal line, I received a blow to the side of my head, which left me with blurred vision.  I talked myself into thinking that it was just sweat that had gotten into my eyes.  Despite not being able to see, on the next play, I jumped over the goal line for a touchdown (both pictured below). The adrenalin rush after the touchdown provided temporary relief to my throbbing head.

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In this game I was also playing safety on defense.  This was because I had been playing with a strained rotator cuff and separated right shoulder for weeks.  There was literally no way I could make a painless tackle with out drop kicking the ball carrier.  Not surprisingly, I missed an open field tackle in the next defensive series, which led to a touchdown.  Time to make up for my mistake and score another touchdown, right?   Fate had a different idea.  Just before the end of the first half, I ran the ball off right tackle, and immediately an unblocked defender wrapped his arms around my legs.  Just as I was about to hit the ground, I looked up to see a white shoulder pad coming straight at my head.  Upon impact my head slammed into the turf, and I jumped up to see why the referee had not thrown a flag for a late hit.  However, my concern for the penalty quickly subsided when I realized that I could no longer feel my legs, and the pain in my head had become so excruciating I could not even think.  I was helped to the sidelines by my teammates, and then collapsed and went into a grand mal seizure.  I was then airlifted to a local trauma center, where I was diagnosed with second impact syndrome (severe brain swelling after an impact to an already concussed brain) and a Subdural Hematoma (brain bleed).  I was given only a 50% chance of survival and endured two head surgeries to relieve the pressure on my brain.  Moments before my first surgery the doctor came into my room and told me that I would never set foot on a football field again and play the game I had dedicated so much effort to for 10 years of my life.


Kevin’s Story On CBS News During Superbowl 2010 Coverage

At that time, I could not understand why something like this would happen to me. Almost six years after that night, it is now clear to me how the dots connect. If I had never suffered that life-threatening injury, my life would be immensely different. In the months following my injury, I felt lost and uncertain of my future.  Eventually, I chose to attend Rutgers University because it was a highly respected academic institution.  My first year of college was a struggle.  Football was the single aspect of my life that I was most passionate about, and it was now missing.  I struggled in my classes not due to a lack of effort, but due to a lack of interest, clear goals, and passion.

At the beginning of my sophomore year, I knew I needed to get football back in my life in some manner.  That year I was hired as a student manager for the Rutgers football team, and this is when my life began to turn around.  I enjoyed going to practice every day and feeling that I was a part of the team.  It was as close as I could get to playing, and I knew I had to pursue a career in sports because it is what I am most passionate about. Also during this time, I began telling my story and educating other athletes on the importance of concussion awareness. I did this through guest lectures in courses at Rutgers, speaking at local high schools, and even being interviewed on national television by CBS during the week of the Super Bowl in 2010. At this point, I knew my injury had happened for a reason.  I was given a platform to tell my story and keep other athletes from making the same dangerous mistake of playing with a concussion. My interest was sparked, my passion was revived, and my career goals were now clear.

During this time, Tom Farrey, an investigative journalist for ESPN covered an E:60 story on Preston Plevretes.  Preston also suffered from second impact syndrome, but unfortunately, he experienced many more complications from the injury than I did. Preston struggles to eat, walk, and talk after his injury. I was deeply impacted and inspired by Preston, especially by his determination to have his story heard so other athletes would not make the same mistake that we made.  At the end of the segment, they showed Preston attending speech therapy sessions.  He was doing this to accomplish one of his goals, which was to speak publicly about the dangers of playing with a concussion.  Tom Farrey asked Preston, “What is the hardest part of all this for you”? Preston replied, “Waking up everyday, and knowing I can’t do all the things that I want to do”.  Teary eyed after watching the episode, everything began to make sense.  Other than not being able to play football anymore, I am still able to do everything I did before my injury.  I knew I had to be Preston’s voice.  I saw how much he struggled and how great of an impact he was making on the lives of athletes.   The same drive, passion, and work ethic I had on the football field was then translated to my new goal of making football, and all sports for that matter, safer for athletes of all ages.