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Parents urged to be proactive if concussion suspected

(MCT) — MILWAUKEE — Kevin Walter, an assistant professor for orthopedics and pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin, believes there is no room for error on concussion patients. The best way to uncover concussions is to see a doctor for a diagnosis.

Use all the other testers as clues. But see a doctor.

“If you’re 98 percent on an ankle injury you’re fine,” said Walter, also the program director at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Primary Care Sports Medicine. “If you’re 98 percent on your brain injury, you’re not 100 percent yet. You’re still at risk and problematic.”

The youngest concussion patient Walter ever had was 8 years old, and the boy had symptoms for months. Every athlete is at risk, but children are most worrisome because brains don’t fully develop until the early 20s.

In the National Football League, players are given mandatory baseline computer tests to determine cognitive ability, and the results become a reference later — something for doctors to compare notes with if they suspect the player has suffered a concussion. But such baseline testing at the youth and high school sports level is challenging and problematic.

“And then you get kids that are sandbagging — thanks to Peyton Manning, that’s all the rage,” said Walter, referring to the Denver Broncos quarterback who admitted to purposely flubbing answers on a baseline test. “They score lower so they have less to get back to. OK, you’re an A student at Marquette High School, and you’re scoring way down here and that’s your baseline? Hogwash.”

The thing that drives Walter absolutely nuts is the mismanagement of the care of a concussion patient — beyond a kid lying about his symptoms so that he will be allowed to play. There are still people who put a game ahead of the health of the student-athlete.

“I still get families that come in and say, ‘Our coach told us not to come in, we’ll take care of it in-house. But we’re a little bit nervous.’ It’s horrifying,” said Walter. “High school has gotten a lot better with the WIAA (state association). It’s the private and the club sports where I hear a lot of questionable things. People still don’t think it’s a big deal. They think you have to have these huge NFL hits to run in to trouble.”

Walter said if there are any symptoms of a concussion, there should be an evaluation by a doctor. If there’s a risk or a pattern, he will recommend the child stop playing.

Walter said he leans on the conservative side. But he also tries to be honest.

“I say, imagine at age 40 that I can’t remember things, and I have anger issues, troubles with relationships,” he said. “I don’t try and play it up. I don’t minimize it either.”

He said some colleagues tell him he is too conservative in his approach. Walter looks at the odds.

“The odds of a high school senior going on and playing in college — not even on scholarship — is like 2.4 percent. And it is less than 1 percent getting drafted to the NFL and not even sticking,” he said. “Even when these kids are good — I don’t want to squash their dreams — but the reality is as good as you think you are, you’re not going to this level. And even if you do make it to that level, why on earth would you want to risk your brain?”

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