By Francis M. Smith
Most parents are well aware that students who play high school sports run the risk of sustaining a serious injury, but in many people's minds, these injuries generally consist of broken bones and torn ligaments. The reality, however, is that the most dangerous, even potentially fatal, injuries show much less obvious signs. A concussion doesn't show the same unmistakable signs of physical trauma that many other injuries do, making it far too easy for a young athlete to be sent back onto the field. These students may still suffer the effects of a concussion or minor traumatic brain injury (MTBI) and are at risk of sustaining a second head injury before fully recovering from the first. The effects of such an injury can be devastating; death or permanent, severe disability are many times the outcome of what is referred to as "second impact syndrome." Even a minor impact that would not seriously threaten an uninjured person can be fatal to a young athlete with unresolved concussion symptoms.
The family of Ryne Dougherty, a junior linebacker at Montclair High School, made this tragic discovery in October of 2008. Ryne had sustained a concussion during a football practice on September 18, and was still suffering the residual effects of this injury when he was allowed to play in a game against Don Bosco Prep a little less than a month later, on October 13. When he tackled an opposing player using a move called an "alligator roll," Ryne sustained a second injury. According to witnesses, the play left him writhing on the ground in pain and attempting to get his helmet off. Initially he was able to regain his feet and answer basic questions, but before he could make it to the sideline, he collapsed in a seizure and lapsed into unconsciousness, from which he never awoke. He was removed from life support two days after the injury.