As sweat trickled down his face and the defense inched toward the line, Mountain View High School senior Trevor Roberts hit the go button and rushed through a gap during a varsity football game last season. His head collided with one of the linebackers and the rest is a lesson in brain injuries.
"I thought I had it under control until one of the other players on my team caught me," said Roberts. "The trainer said I was shaking and trembling."
Luckily for Roberts and other high school athletes of Central Oregon, he was able to access cutting edge concussion testing through the combined efforts of The Center and its non-profit entity, The Center Foundation at St. Charles Medical Center. The Center has been using Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, or ImPACT, since 2000 and has seen the testing grow by leaps and bounds since its implementation.
FROM CENTRAL OREGON TO THE STATE
For Roberts, the testing meant a safe assessment of his ability to get back to playing.
Before crucial moments like his occurred, The Center Foundation and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medical Department originally collaborated to make Central Oregon the first to use the innovative concussion testing west of the Mississippi.
"Dr. Mark Belza was the neurosurgeon physician responsible for bringing the ImPACT test to Central Oregon initially and has been an avid champion for our work," said Carol Stiles, Executive Director of The Center.
Local high schools were the first to receive the no-cost, computerized testing, but its availablility has grown to multiple counties such as Klamath, Lake and Harney because of grants from a trust called the Juan Young Trust, according to Stiles.
As the testing has grown statewide, one of the backbones of the local effort has become Dr. Viviane Ugalde, medical director at The Center. She has been on the testing forefront for the past six years and believes it has been a boon to this community to have athletic trainers in our schools.
"It really speeds up the whole process and helps to identify things," said Ugalde.
"Since I've been on board, we've been trying hard to make it a community-wide effort."
A part of this effort has been Lindsay Hagler, head trainer at Mountain View High School, who has been using the technology for the past three years.
"It's a great tool for us to manage concussion," said Halgler. "Central Oregon is really lucky to have the support from The Center."
HOW THE TESTING WORKS
Every year, freshman and junior athletes take the baseline test, a 20-minute computerized neuropsychological assessment measuring the cognitive response to components such as visual memory, reaction time and color matching.
The baseline data is stored and then compared with post-injury testing results.
"Last school year, we conducted nearly 1,000 ImPACT baselines for our schools and dealt with 349 concussed athletes, 15 of whom experienced season ending injuries," said Stiles.
"The fact that we place certified athletic trainers in area high schools gives our kids the edge in protection," she said.
In addition to ImPACT testing, the high school implemented a secondary test called the Balance Error Scoring System test, or BESS, this past year, according to Mountain View Coach Hagler.
The test involves athletes balancing on different foam pads to measure stability.
"It's nice to have different tests to objectively see how they're actually functioning," she said.
As winter sports seasons begin, Mt. View junior Natalie Warren took the test before her varsity basketball practice last week and finished with a reminder of how severe concussions really are.
"I had two concussions during my freshman and sophomore year. The first one—I didn't say anything. But the second one, I did tell the trainer," she said. "It took me a month and a half to recover from the first and two weeks for the second."
Warren said she realized how dangerous it was not to tell someone about a concussion.
Hagler said the testing gets the best results within a 24-to-72 hour timeframe. That's when the athlete is most symptomatic.
She said most concussions are minor but can still have lasting consequences like Second Impact Syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when an athlete suffers a second concussion while still recovering from the first.
Hagler is just one of 50 certified trainers in high schools statewide. But with the dangers of concussions becoming more well known, the state Legislature took initiative on this harrowing issue and passed "Max's Law" in 2010.
The state law requires all high school coaches to undergo annual training on how to distinguish concussion symptoms and how to effectively decide how long an athlete should be taken off the field.
"We don't want to see them out of games," said Hagler. "[But] we rely on policy now. It's Oregon law that they don't play 'til they get cleared."