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Concussions: Too much say in returning to play?

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – From Steve Young to Eric Lindros to Sidney Crosby, concussions have long affected professional athletes.

But when it comes to the high school level, a lot of questions remain, such as the effects on a developing the teenage brain, who has the final say over when an athlete comes out of the game, and how treatment methods remain in flux or, to some extent, unknown.

In the first of this five-part series looking at concussions at the high school level, News1130 hears from an athlete who had to deal with months of recovery after staying in the game.

Graduation prep and exams are just a few of the things that make Grade 12 such a challenging year for students. Throw in an unexpected and possibly incapacitating injury, and it can be a monumental hurdle to overcome.

That’s where Kira Smordin found herself last winter. The university-bound teen was on the court in what was to be her final game alongside her basketball teammates when she went up for the ball in a crowded scrum under the basket.

“I eventually got elbowed in the head and some girl threw the basketball and it bounced off and hit my head again and then another girl hit me. So, I actually got hit four times in that game,” says Smordin, recalling the game in question.

She immediately went to the bench, where the two coaches assessed her. But the senior had no intention of remaining on the sidelines.

“I really wanted to continue,” she tells us. “They just asked how I’m feeling; if I was fine, if I felt dizzy or anything. And I said, ‘No I’m fine.’ They made me sit for a second but then I went back out.”

“Out of the five years I played basketball, we’d never been that close. I really wanted to play. We were down by one. If we won that I remember we would have gone to the next round and we could have gone to the championships,” says Smordin.

At the time, she didn’t know she’d suffered a concussion. “I felt dizzy and a little bit nauseous but we were down by one and it was my last year to play basketball on my school team so I just continued playing.”

“I used to think you can only get a concussion from a horrible hit like falling down a ski mountain or something. So that’s probably a lot of the reason why I didn’t think anything was wrong with me. I thought ‘Okay, I got hit in a basketball game; you can’t get a concussion from that.'”

The next day, she had a pretty good idea that something wasn’t right. “The next morning is when I really didn’t feel well because I actually remember throwing up. And I’m fortunate enough not to ever get headaches in my life and I had a really bad headache in the morning.”

A concussion diagnosis soon followed. Kira then underwent two months of treatment at Vancouver’s Advance Concussion Clinic. Her psychologist, Dr. Cirelle Rosenblatt, says the fact she sought the treatment so early means she avoided an even longer bout with concussion symptoms.

“One day, I remember I had to go home from school because even someone talking next to me would automatically just give me a horrible headache. It was so bad, I just went home. I remember I just went into my room and closed by eyes and after around 20 minutes, it just started to go down. I had to leave school. That was probably the worst.”

Her school was understanding and made it as easy as it could for her but Smordin couldn’t help but feel the stress.

“It was very hard at school. I would read something and then I would just get a headache and I couldn’t remember what I read. I couldn’t be on my computer and I had a lot of assignments. It was my Grade 12 year so it was hard to keep up with the school work.”

The decision to go back into the game was up to her coaches but they assumed she was okay after Smordin told them she was fine. For the most part, there is no uniform concussion protocol across school districts. That leaves decisions to individual coaches with varying degrees of expertise, who often rely on the opinion of athletes themselves.

Athletic directors and staff from the Vancouver School Board are meeting on Friday to discuss drafting a protocol for all board schools.

Tomorrow, the second part of this series will look at a parent’s point of view and how much of what we assume about concussions is actually true.