Son's injury leads dad to become 'concussion monitor' for teams

Days before his 10th birthday, Nick Young got a concussion from a helmet-to-helmet collision while making a tackle.

He missed the regular-season finale of his 8- and 9-year-old Peters Township Junior Football Association team.

He missed their playoff the next week.

That was only the start.

" 'Cause my brain, like ... I don't know," was the best the bright, verbal boy could explain.

It was last November and December -- after his A's turned into B's, his sunny disposition turned irritable and his academic outlook grew angst-filled -- that his parents, Rick and Melina, came to a conclusion.

Concussions aren't limited to the fallout on the field.

"You get concerned when you see your child's grades drop off a little bit," said his father, Rick Young. "And, at first, we didn't put them together."

The father is a podiatrist who, in his residency, dabbled in sports medicine. So brain trauma in athletics isn't foreign to him. It's just that between being a doctor and a dad, sometimes there exists a disconnect. The parents at first suspected Nick had the flu. After a time, he came to understand that the football injury was following his son into the classroom, into his schoolwork.

"Emotionally, he was affected by it," Dr. Young said. Academically, it had "a lingering effect. I don't even think he realized it for awhile.

"As a parent, that's when your eyes open up.

"And," Dr. Young added, still in disbelief, "it was considered a mild concussion. That was October. It took all the way until Christmas before that stuff started to subside."

The Youngs weren't alone. Their family friends, the Gudenburrs, went through a somewhat similar situation after their 10-year-old son, Drew, absorbed a hit to the chin and showed few symptoms in the immediate aftermath. The next day, he began to vomit.

"We thought he had the flu for three days," said Christine Gudenburr.

At an age so tender that it causes concussion experts to express concern about the brain's development, old-school mores and less-modern sensibilities still take root.

"He was getting treated like, 'Shouldn't he be back by now?' " Dr. Young recalled. " 'Shouldn't it be better?' "

He wasn't, for two more months.

"It was last year, second-to-last game of the year," began Nick, a talkative, smiling youngster who much prefers outdoor activities such as athletics to video games -- a sprained knee ligament from hockey helped to sideline him at this football season's start.

"I was tackling a kid, and his teammate was trying to push him from behind. [The ball carrier's] helmet hit my helmet. I felt a little funny and dizzy after the game. I came home and laid down."

The headaches remained constant for one week, he said, then on and off for the next two weeks.

It took considerably longer than anticipated, he added, "for things to get back to normal."

That unexpectedly protracted and emotional period provided the impetus for Dr. Young to become something of the association's concussion monitor. He attended a two-day seminar at Duquesne University the next spring, studied concussion management and became an at-large board member who oversaw the testing and medical histories of the 225 Peters players.

He has a spreadsheet detailing the nearly 60 percent of the players who have a baseline score in the ImPACT concussion screening, of which some 45 percent were personally escorted by Dr. Young to UPMCSports Medicine's South Side headquarters to take the exam.

It's a refrain specialists contend they're hearing almost daily this fall from fathers: If I knew a year ago what I know now ...

Nick, a concussion veteran a few weeks shy of 11, is proud of his father's involvement.

"That definitely can help tons of kids," he said.

First Published September 19, 2010 4:00 AM


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