Day in and day out, Dr. Joe Congeni helps young athletes who have suffered concussions. He evaluates and diagnoses the head injury, educates his patients and their parents about symptoms, long-term risks and follows up, and lays out a cautious return-to-play plan.
When he testified this week before the Ohio Health, Human Services and Aging Committee, Dr. Congeni advocated not only for his own patients but every child in Ohio who plays some type of sport.
He spoke in support of Substitute House Bill 143, which will expand concussion education and strengthen return-to-play protocols.
Regulations already in place by the Ohio High School Athletic Association protect high school athletes. But HB143 expands that coverage to all athletes, including those in little league, intramural leagues, or sports sponsored by religion-sponsored organizations.
“Younger athletes are actually at greater risk for concussion for several reasons,” said Dr. Congeni, director of Sports Medicine at Akron Children’s. “This is because their brains are still developing and their bodies are still growing, which makes them top-heavy and more vulnerable.”
Dr. Congeni added that younger athletes are also least likely to have athletic trainers on the sidelines, who are the first line of defense for recognizing a concussion and pulling the child from play.
HB143, sponsored by Reps. Michael Stinziano and Sean O’Brien, requires increased education for parents, coaches and referees about the signs and symptoms of a concussion and the importance of proper management.
Every three years, coaches and referees will be required to successfully complete a 45-minute Web-based training program developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The second major component of the legislation requires the coach or referee to remove from activity any child that shows symptoms or behaviors consistent with a concussion.
“Removal from activity is critical because of the great risk for a catastrophic injury if the child sustains a second head injury before the brain has healed,” said Dr. Congeni. “Under the provisions of the bill, the child may not return the same day.”
The final component of the law requires that the child be evaluated and cleared for return to play by a physician or, in some instances, an allied health care professional, such as an athletic trainer working with a physician.
“Concussions are unique injuries – no two are alike – making it impossible to standardize the return-to-play timeline,” said Dr. Congeni.
Dr. Congeni, a lifelong sports enthusiast, believes strongly – even passionately – about the value of sports. He has been an athlete himself, as well as a coach and team physician. But he wants kids to stay safe.
“Sports teach our kids so many great lessons about the value of hard work, teamwork and discipline,” he said. “We want to keep that positive influence in their lives while reducing the risk of repeated concussions. This legislation will help us achieve that.”