TRUCKEE, Calif. — Tahoe Truckee Unified School District student athletes have a new line of defense against concussions.
The Play it Safe Concussion Care program provides them education on concussions, a resource to identify one, and insurance coverage to access physicians trained in evaluating and managing concussions for those who suffer one.
“One of the big things is you look totally normal when you have a head injury, whereas if you break your arm, you have a big cast on,” said Dr. Nina Winans, sports medicine physician and medical director for the Tahoe Center for Health and Sports Performance.
To help detect a concussion, student athletes take a preseason ImPACT exam that tests brain function, including memory, processing speed and reaction time, to establish a baseline for each individual athlete.
“Our hope is that you never have to use it again and that you’ll never have to access this insurance because that means you had a head injury,” Winans said.
Those suspected of getting a concussion are pulled from play and evaluated by a physician trained in head injuries. The student athlete then undergoes a post-injury ImPACT test, with the results being compared to the baseline results to determine the extent of the concussion.
If a concussion is present, an individual follow-up plan is created by the physician and carried out by the student athlete until he or she is cleared to return to play.
Insurance coverage through the Play it Safe Concussion Care program covers up to $25,000 per injury with no deductible and no co-pays. It acts as a second insurance for those with primary coverage and primary coverage for those without insurance.
“We want parents to get the best care (for their children) and not have to worry about it,” said Mike Lamb, vice president of Play it Safe Concussion Care program for Wells Fargo, which helped develope the program.
All TTUSD high school student athletes involved in a sport where there is a risk for concussion such as football and soccer are included in the program.
It comes at no cost to TTUSD families and the school district, with funding coming from the Gene Upshaw Memorial Fund and the Tahoe Institute for Rural Health Research.
“It just brings us a much higher level of care than we’ve had before,” said Corine Harvey, executive director of student services for TTUSD.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year U.S. emergency departments treat an estimated 173,285 sports- and recreations-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, among children and adolescents. In the past decade, emergency department visits for such injuries has increased by 60 percent.
“When I grew up, you didn’t talk about concussions,” said head Truckee football coach Josh Ivens, a former Truckee player who starred for the Wolverines in the early 1990s. “But now, we’re teaching so differently, as far as tackling technique and stuff like that. There’s so much attention to it in the NFL that it’s trickling town to the levels below. ... We’re learning more about it, and I think that’s a positive thing.”
The NFL is currently embroiled in a concussion lawsuit with former players.
A $765 million settlement between the league and its 18,000 retired players was reached in August 2013. However, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody recently rejected the settlement based on concerns it’s too low to cover all affected players.
“With the Play it Safe program, Tahoe Truckee’s schools and youth programs can now provide their players with access to similar protections and protocols afforded professional athletes,” said John Breckenridge, senior vice president of Wells Fargo’s Student Insurance Division, in light of their access to the ImPACT test and physicians specialized in concussions.
The Play It Safe Concussion Care program began at the beginning of this school through a partnership among TTUSD, Tahoe Forest Health System and Wells Fargo.
“(Concussions) used to be kind of pooh-pooh and called he dinged his head, or, ‘Oh, he’s a little funny right now,’” Winans said. “All these kinds of things made light of it. We realize now that these injuries are serious, and you only get one brain,” Winans said.
Sierra Sun Sports Editor Sylas Wright contributed to this story.