Quarterback's state after 24 hours is key

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Doctors should soon know whether Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can recover from his motorcycle crash and return to football.

That's the perspective of Dr. Jack Wilberger, chairman of neurosurgery at Allegheny General Hospital.

The best-case scenario is for Mr. Roethlisberger to leave the hospital in several days, continue his recovery at home, and be able to play football this fall, Dr. Wilberger said.

But the progress he makes in the first 24 hours will determine if other injuries, initially undetected, could cause more significant health problems for the Steelers quarterback, he said.

"Assuming there's not more to it than what we know, his recovery shouldn't be that long," Dr. Wilberger said, basing his comments on information available to the public six to eight hours after the accident. "It looks reasonably good, given what could have happened.

"His brain is working and even with a concussion, he had most of his faculties."

What happened overnight and today will be monitored closely by doctors at Mercy Hospital, where Mr. Roethlisberger was taken after he crashed his motorcycle.

Dr. Wilberger said doctors will watch for injuries not initially detected, including bone fractures. Doctors also will watch his blood pressure, which could drop if any undetected injuries to internal organs occurred.

Another problem to watch out for is the possibility of bruised lungs, which could reduce the amount of oxygen in his system, Dr. Wilberger said.

People with head injuries often are put through a test known as the Glasgow Coma Scale to determine the level of injury, he said.

A deep coma would score only a three, with normal or near-normal brain function scoring a 15.

Dr. Wilberger said he had learned that Mr. Roethlisberger scored a 13 or 14 on the test.

"That would be considered minor head injury or a concussion. With that level, most people have a good outcome."

But some could have lasting effects with memory or other problems, he said.

Given what he's learned of Mr. Roethlisberger's injuries, Dr. Wilberger said there's nothing to suggest Mr. Roethlisberger could not return to football. "But we have to make sure he gets through the period where more serious injuries can show up."

Swelling of the brain can occur after an accident, and even patients with relatively mild brain injuries can have problems with memory or concentration, said Dr. Douglas H. Smith, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Brain Injury and Repair.

David Templeton can be reached at dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578. Joe Fahy can be reached at jfahy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1722.

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