Repeat concussions drive Domingo out of football
Two temporary mind-altering blows to his head influenced Jason Domingo to use his head concerning his football-playing future.
The South Tahoe High senior incurred two concussions — one of which left him stumbling to the sideline without the foggiest idea of what was transpiring around him — during a nine-game varsity season last year. While he has no lingering effects from those concussions, the danger of damaging his quality of life by taking another jarring hit to the head simplified Domingo’s decision to give up football.
“If I was going to take another hit to my head and not be able to use my arms and not be able to think with a full brain, how would my life have been after that?” Domingo said. “High school football is great and you’re going to remember it for the rest of your life, but you still have the rest of your life to live.”
However, at 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, Domingo was thought of as one of the Vikings’ top returning defensive players. Raised on a steady diet of football since he was 8 and with teammates goading him to play, the 18-year-old Domingo agonizes over his decision from time to time.
“A lot of kids were challenging my toughness,” Domingo said.
Domingo has no lingering side effects from a major concussion incurred against McQueen early in the 2001 season as well as a minor one that occurred later in the season at Fallon.
“I lost perception of reality. I wasn’t passed out, but it took me a while to realize where I was,” said Domingo on the impact of his first high school concussion, which caused him to miss one game. He recalled suffering two “minor” concussions while playing Pop Warner football prior to high school ball.
Domingo never told coaches or teammates about his second high school concussion for fear of missing playing time.
“I had that tough-guy kind of attitude,” he said. “I remember the running back got the ball on a simple dive and I met him in the hole. Then I got up and looked straight and the horizon kind of dropped. I couldn’t keep my head up and I tried to keep my eyes open.”
Last summer, Domingo and his mother, Judy, became concerned during off-season conditioning when he started experiencing a numbness in both forearms, making it difficult to grip items. A medical checkup, including an MRI, revealed nothing, but the partial paralysis was serious enough for doctors to advise him against playing this season.
“The doctors felt it would be best for his brain and arms for him not to play,” Judy said. “We were more worried about the numbness in his arms than anything. Because he had some numbness we didn’t want to risk if he were to get a blow to the head again.
“He wants to use his brain and become a history teacher, so why should he play high school football?”
Neurology researchers recently disclosed that high school players with repeat concussions are 9.3 times more likely to have on-field loss of consciousness, difficulty recalling details before and after the head injury and general confusion. Some concussion experts also believe that players who have suffered multiple blows to the head are more vulnerable to concussions and damage accumulates.
“We know clinically that seemingly mild blows to the head are causing more problems in people who had more concussions in the past,” Michael W. Collins of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program, recently told the Associated Press.
Common side effects from concussions are headaches, blurry vision, nausea, ringing in the ears, disorientation and amnesia, according to STHS’s 11-year team physician Scott Southard. Recovery time varies from player to player.
“It’s a real injury. It’s not something you shake off,” Southard said. “It needs proper attention and to be managed appropriately.
“Parents need to be aware that repeat concussions are a concern and single, isolated concussions are also a concern.”
Making matters worse for Domingo during his concussion-ridden season last year were the higher frequency of migraine headaches he was experiencing. His migraines started in the fourth grade, but after the two concussions he began having them once a month instead of once every three months.
“They are pretty devastating. When I get them, it pretty much kills the whole day,” Domingo said. “I lie in bed in the dark until they go away.”
Domingo has attended all of STHS’s home games this season, but sometimes the void of not playing causes him to seek isolation.
“It was horrible,” he said. “I love playing football and the doctors told me, ‘No,’ and I thought it was a pretty good idea … either play football and have a chance of being paralyzed or don’t play and I can have a full healthy life.
“But afterward when I was watching the games on Saturdays, it was kind of tough to sit there and watch them. I can’t really watch a whole game without going into a corner of the bleachers by myself.”
Not having a player of his size and experience was a major loss for the Vikings.
“Obviously with our numbers and not having a kid that has experience and knows the game hurts because we need numbers,” said STHS co-coach Chris Morgan. “It’s a tough decision, especially when you’re 17 and all of your buddies are still out there. But if you’re having repeat concussions and numbness, you might want to think about playing something else.”
Watching his younger brother, Eric, succeed for the junior varsity has helped Domingo deal with this emptiness. Eric has intercepted eight passes, including one he returned 105 yards for a game-winning touchdown on the final play of a season-opening victory over Reed last month.
Coaching has also helped him deal with his loss. Domingo has served as an assistant coach for Steve Klug’s Pop Warner football team.
“Football was never about winning and losing,” he said. “It was about just being able to play. I thought it was fun. It also takes a lot of discipline. Kids who play are more disciplined and (punctual). Some of this is the basis for life.”
Although his football his career has ended at STHS, Domingo will suit up for the Viking basketball team this winter.
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