CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new state law meant to prevent concussions in student athletes is a step in the right direction, but the rule could go further, a brain injury prevention advocate said.
"The bill shows how serious this problem is," said Mike Davis, president of the Brain Injury Association of West Virginia. "We woke up and realized we have to do something about it."
Davis has been advocating for brain injury patients and their families for more than 30 years, since his 8-year-old son sustained brain injuries in a collision with a drunk driver near Elkview.
The law, which passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate unanimously, requires that at West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission member schools, student athletes suspected of having a concussion be removed from play immediately.
Those athletes are not to practice or play in games until they are evaluated and get written permission from a licensed health care professional trained in concussions.
The law also requires that school administrators, coaches, athletes and parents be informed of the risk of head injury and the dangers of continuing to play after a head injury.
Davis said the medical professionals evaluating the athletes should have regular training about concussions.
"My real concern is they're requiring administrators, coaches and all these people to have ongoing training -- the doctors need training," Davis said. "I know they get continuing education but do they get ongoing training for concussions and return to play?"
Emergency rooms in the United States treat more than 173,000 sports and recreation-related brain injuries in young people, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Football, basketball and soccer were among the activities that caused the most brain injury-related emergency room visits, according to the CDC.
Young people take longer to recover from brain injury. Though the symptoms may appear mild, brain injuries can lead to life-long impairment to memory, behavior, learning and emotions, according to the CDC.
The state law also requires member schools to report concussions to the WVSSAC within 30 days. The report must include whether the evaluated student actually suffered a concussion and how many days passed between the injury and when the student was cleared to play again. The WVSSAC is required to compile the reports for state and federal agencies so they can determine if the law should be amended.
"That's very important, I think," Davis said of the reporting guidelines.
Often, head injuries are not reported because overzealous parents, coaches and medical professionals want athletes to play, he said.
"Letting the local team doctor decide whether someone should return to play, that's like the fox guarding the chicken coop," he said.
The law goes into effect July 12, but the WVSSAC has already taken precautions to help curb head injuries, executive director Gary Ray said.