HARTFORD, CT, March 3, 2014 – Speaking as a former soccer player and brain injury survivor, Trinity student Arleigha Cook ’16, told members of the General Assembly’s Committee on Children Thursday that if there had been mandatory training for athletes, trainers, referees and coaches, there is a good chance she would not have post-concussion syndrome today.
“Training and vigilance is necessary at all levels of play,” Cook told the legislators. “As my experiences have shown, players are at risk at the youth level, at the high school level and at the collegiate level.”
Cook and Sarah Raskin, professor of psychology and neuroscience, both testified on House Bill 5113, An Act Concerning Youth Athletics and Concussions. As proposed, the legislation would reduce the number of concussions in children by requiring the state Board of Education to develop and approve a concussion education plan; requiring the operators of youth athletic activities to provide information on concussions to athletes and parents; requiring youth athletes suspected of sustaining a concussion to provide written clearance from a medical professional before returning to athletic activity; limiting full contact practices to 90 minutes a week; and requiring school boards to compile and report all instances of concussions suffered by children at school.
Raskin, a neuropsychologist who is on the Board of Directors of the Brain Injury Alliance of Connecticut, said that because so little is known about the effects of concussion on the brain, “the only real answer is prevention. Rather than wait for a brain injury to happen we need to do everything we can to protect these children.”
Cook, an English major from Dartmouth, MA, offered a compelling firsthand account of why the law is needed, having suffered her fourth and final concussion on October 13, 2012 while playing for Trinity, placing her one year and four months into her recovery.
“My concussions changed my life. I now know loss of identity, loss of friends, and loss of part of my life that I will never get back. On top of that, I had to deal with different forms of treatment – I went to vestibular therapy for my eyes, balance problems, and general recovery,” said Cook, adding that she is on various types of medication to treat her symptoms, none of which she experienced before incurring her head injuries.
Cook suffered her first concussion in eighth grade while she was playing youth soccer. The bill hit her directly in the face and she lost part of her vision for a few minutes. Her second concussion occurred in high school, resulting in a two-day absence from school. She incurred her third concussion, also in high school, when she was again hit in the face by a soccer ball.
“My fourth, the last one my brain could handle, occurred my freshman year of college and resulted in Post-Concussion Syndrome and my permanent withdrawal from the game I love,” said Cook. “I played my last game, as a central midfielder for Trinity College, on Saturday October 13, 2012.”
Cook recalled that after being hit directly in the forehead, she left the field with the help of a referee who was trained to look for signs of concussion. At the time, Cook’s vision was blurred, she was confused and had a bad headache. After being evaluated by a Trinity trainer, her symptoms persisted and a physician diagnosed her as having a concussion. Things quickly deteriorated. Cook went home and spent two weeks sleeping 15 hours a day in a dark, silent room. Shortly after, she passed physical and mental tests and returned to Trinity, where she hoped to participate in indoor track.
“I began to slowly train and build up my strength again, but after a week into my training I began to get nauseous when I sprinted or lifted,” she said. “That would turn into dizziness, and eventually I wouldn’t be able to stand anymore. Because these symptoms were so overwhelming, I had to stop training every time that happened. I also started experiencing a strange phenomenon where I would lose control of my eyes. It was then that I saw my doctor again and was diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome.”
Cook credited the trainers and referee at Trinity with appropriately dealing with her fourth concussion, noting that they were “highly knowledgeable.” However, she explained that because she had already sustained three prior concussions, she wasn’t able to heal completely.
“On the other hand, I was lucky enough to be able to miss only two weeks of first semester of my freshman year and just barely finish in time with the help of my amazing professors,” she said.
The legislators praised Cook for her forthrightness in openly discussing her experience, thanked her for giving them a “very complete picture” of what she had gone through, and
wished her “all the best” for a complete recovery.
As part of her work at Trinity, Raskin’s research involves the assessment and treatment of people who have had brain injuries, including concussions. But she acknowledged that scientists and the medical profession know little about the effects of concussion on the brain. For example, she said, researchers don’t understand why some people recover completely while others struggle with debilitating symptoms for years.
“We don’t yet know how to accurately diagnose who will have problems,” she said. “We know even less about how to treat those that do.”
As a result, Raskin told lawmakers that instead of waiting for a brain injury to happen, steps must be taken to protect children. It’s particularly important in dealing with children, she said, because their brains are still developing.
“I certainly understand all the benefits that come from playing sports – physical, social and cognitive benefits,” she said. “However, none of these outweigh having a lifelong struggle with the deficits brought on by brain damage…That is why I strongly urge you to support this bill.”
For more information about concussion education, management and prevention, please visit: http://brain101.orcasinc.com/.