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Armour: Why Parents Shouldn’t Clear Kids from Concussions

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Photo: medicalnewstoday.com

There are times Mom and Dad really don’t know what’s best. Like, say, when it’s safe for their child to return to play after a concussion.

Fortunately North Carolina lawmakers appear to have realized that. With furor building over proposed legislation that would have allowed parents to make a decision they are not equipped for and that could jeopardize their child’s life, one of the co-sponsors told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday that the bill will soon be amended.

“That’s going to be changed,” promised state Rep. Greg Murphy, who is also a physician. “It’s not necessary because I don’t believe parents are medical professionals and they are not qualified to make such decisions.

“I’m not sure why that was included,” he added, “but it’s definitely going to be removed.”

Given some of the shenanigans in North Carolina politics lately, it’s worth keeping an eye on legislators until the necessary edits are actually made to House Bill 116. Because parents, no matter how well-meaning, do not have the expertise to make a decision of this magnitude.

There is still much we don’t know about repetitive head trauma and the long-term damage it can cause, particularly with young athletes. There is no set recovery time, either, with severity of the injury, physiology and personal history all playing a role.

But one thing researchers do know is that returning to play too soon can leave a child vulnerable to additional injury, even death. And while most parents would never do anything to purposely put their child at risk, we’ve all seen those moms and dads with an unhealthy investment or interest in their kids’ athletic careers.

Giving them the power to rush their son or daughter back on the field when a young body or brain is still healing is not only senseless, it’s reckless.

“Parents are very competitive in many venues of competitive sports. Sometimes those decisions are made — and I’ve seen them made previously,” said Jason Mihalik, co-director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at the University of North Carolina.

“At the end of the day, everyone should be a part of (discussions about) a student-athlete’s health and safety and that includes parents,” Mihalik added. “But certain decisions that need to be made can impact the life of a student-athlete, and those decisions are best left to licensed medical professionals.”

The irony of all this is that North Carolina already has one of the most comprehensive return-to-play laws in the country, one that has been held up as a model for other states.

Named for two high school football players who died after suffering head trauma on the field, the Gfeller-Waller Concussion Awareness Act prohibits kids from returning to play without the written clearance of a physician, neuropsychologist, athletic trainer, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner. It also requires schools to have formal emergency action plans in the event of a serious injuries or medical conditions.

“I strongly feel parents should be involved in medical decisions involving their child,” Mihalik said. “To do the scenario where a parent is exclusively able to (clear a child), without even seeking health care for the child, is something I personally can’t support.”

The uproar over making parents concussion experts has also detracted from the other, laudable aspects of HB 116. In addition to concussions, the Student Safety in Athletics bill would require all coaches to be trained in CPR and prohibit kids who suffered heat stroke or heat exhaustion from returning to play without medical clearance. It also would require parents to acknowledge before each season that they’d been given educational information on sudden cardiac arrest, heat illnesses and head trauma.

But perhaps most importantly, HB 116 would create a statewide database of all catastrophic illnesses, injuries and concussions suffered during an athletic activity. It would be cataloged by age, gender and sport, providing researchers with a wealth of information.

“We can’t act on data unless we have it,” Murphy said.

And you can’t make decisions that will impact the health and safety of a child if you don’t have the training and expertise to do so.

Being a parent requires making tough choices every single day. Deciding whether your child’s injured brain has recovered enough to let them return to the playing field should not be one of them.

By Nancy Armour

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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