It was a tragic week in high school football nationally: 3 deaths in 4 days. The causes were due to brain bleeds, not concussions. Concussions don’t cause bleeding or swelling in the brain.
While it’s a scary situation, it’s important to understand the facts. This year, there are about 1.1 million kids playing high school football. Each year, 12 to 15 deaths occur in this contact sport, and of those, only 3 to 4 of them are due to brain injuries.
Today, I had the chance to speak with WAKR morning show host Ray Horner about this topic. I don’t want to downplay these unfortunate events, but I also don’t want people to misunderstand the occurrence rates.
Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion, which originally aired on 1590 WAKR-AM on Oct. 8, 2014.
DR. CONGENI: Hey, Ray. You know, nationally, this is a big story. I don’t know how much you’ve heard about it locally, but it really had a lot of people concerned. It was a really bad week in youth, I’m sorry, in high school football. There were 3 deaths nationally in the last week …
HORNER: I saw that.
DR. CONGENI: … in the sport of high school football. And, I want to make sure that some things are cleared up so that, you know, we react to this and understand it, but that we don’t overreact to it.
So, particularly — I did a couple of interviews out on the East Coast on the weekend — the last case was in Long Island. There was one case in Alabama and one case in North Carolina. Three kids in 4 days. They were not from concussion; they were from brain bleeds.
Every year in the sport of football, uh, high school, college, pro, there are a few of these nationally of brain-injury deaths, usually from bleeding in the brain. That’s not the same as a concussion. Concussions don’t cause bleeding or swelling in the brain, and they don’t cause kids to die acutely.
But, kids do occasionally die from a bleeding in the brain, and it does occur in our country. So, there are about 1.1 million high school football players in the United States this year, 1.1 million. And, there are about 12 to 15 deaths per year that occur in high school football.
About 5 or 6 a year are from the heart; about 3 to 4 a year are from the head; about 2 or 3 a year still occur from heat. So, those are the 3 major causes of those 12 to 15 cases a year out of 1.1 million kids who play.
Now, it just happened that these 3 cases all took place in 1 week, actually in a 4-day period, so there was a lot of talk nationally about that. But, the fact is that in looking at those cases, 1 of those 3 kids, it actually happened during warm-ups. And in looking at it more, they think it might be the more common heart illness.
… There are some undetectable problems that can occur in the heart that can predispose kids to, when they go out to play sports, have sudden cardiac arrest and death.
The same thing often occurs in the brain if kids have undetectable, say for instance, Ray, an aneurysm, which is a weakness in the wall of the blood vessels in the brain. They could take a very mild hit, but go on to a bleeding in the brain that if that kid doesn’t get to an emergency room in enough time can cause death.
So, it does occur. It’s very rare. It’s about as common or less common than you driving from Wadsworth, Ohio, to west Akron every day, you know, the chances of a car accident occurring: … 1.1 million kids that play and about 3 to 5 a year.
But still, I’m not downplaying the fact that if you’re living in Long Island and you have a totally healthy 16 year old who dies of a brain bleed, it’s a very scary thing.
HORNER: Joe, great stuff as always. Thank you for the words of advice. We’ll talk to you next week.
DR. CONGENI: Okay, Ray. Take care.
HORNER: Alright. Dr. Joe Congeni, Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital.