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Playing it safe New law changes concussion management BY CRYSTAL CONDE Con-

cussions not only robbed former Texas high school star soccer player Natasha Helmick of her dream to play on the U.S. Olympic soccer team, they also stole her childhood memories. College coaches noticed her talent when she was just 14, but five concus- sions — the first when she was in the eighth grade — dashed her chances of playing competitive soccer in college and in the Olym- pics. Worse, she doesn’t re- member much of her child- hood because of repeated sports-related concussions. “If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently,” Ms. Helmick, now 19 and studying to become an ath- letic trainer, told the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee during a hearing on concussion management legislation in May. She testified before the Senate committee and the House Public Health Committee to support House Bill 2038 on preven- tion, treatment, and oversight of concussions affecting student athletes.

Theodore Spinks, MD, an Austin pediatric neurosurgeon, was one of eight physicians who provided input this session on concussion preven- tion, treatment, and oversight legislation known as Natasha’s Law. He says passage of Natasha’s Law helps ensure Texas student athletes receive proper concussion assessment and treatment.

The legislature passed the bill, also known as Na- tasha’s Law, and Gov. Rick Perry signed it June 17. The new law requires school districts to cre- ate concussion oversight teams that must include at least one physician and to establish return-to-play protocols that involve evaluation of the athlete by a physician. Nata- sha’s Law also requires the University Interscho- lastic League (UIL) and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to approve train- ing courses on concus- sions for coaches and ath- letic trainers. UIL (www oversees aca- demic, athletic, and music contests throughout the state. Its Medical Advisory Committee reviews physi- cal examination forms and other sports medicine guidelines for schools, in- cluding concussion man- agement protocol. In addition, passage of House Bill 675 by Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Browns-

She had simple advice to coaches not sure if an athlete is affected by a head injury: “When in doubt, sit them out.” Ms. Helmick’s story isn’t uncommon. The National Federa- tion of State High School Associations reports about 140,000 high school students suffer concussions annually.

ville) to make high school football helmets safer complements HB 2038. (See “Legislature Tackles Helmet Safety,” page 39.) The Texas Medical Association created the Ad Hoc Commit- tee on Student Athlete Concussions (see page 38), made up of eight physicians with expertise in concussion prevention, treat- ment, and oversight, to review concussion-related bills and to guide lawmakers.

September 2011 TEXAS MEDICINE 37


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