Athletes excel in concussion reporting

Trainer Alex Jyzk performs concussion testing on senior Kyra Judge. Brookline High is relatively ahead of other schools in regards to both concussion reporting and recovery programs, making a supportive recovery environment. Photo by Mia Svirsky.
Trainer Alex Jyzk performs concussion testing on senior Kyra Judge. Brookline High is relatively ahead of other schools in regards to both concussion reporting and recovery programs, making a supportive recovery environment. Photo by Mia Svirsky.

According to the Boston Globe, Massachusetts student-athletes from 360 high schools (public and private) suffered 4,400 concussions or other closely related head injuries from playing an interscholastic sport last year. With 48 head injuries last year, Brookline had the seventh-highest number of the schools surveyed.

“We are by far way ahead of the curve in concussion testing, concussion reporting, concussion diagnosis and a lot of the education about head injuries,” sports trainer Alex Jyzk said. “That is why Brookline is so high up on that list; we’ve had concussion testing for eight years. The schools that are advanced are the ones who report what is going on with their student athletes, compared to other schools who don’t report what is going on.”

For many students who experience head injuries or concussions, Brookline High school is not only advanced in reporting the problem, but also a safe place for recovery. Senior Noa Sklar said that she found support not only from her teachers and peers, but also from Jyzk and the nursing staff. The nursing staff at school is important in the recovery of these students, Jyzk said.

Athletes said that the first challenge was recognizing that they had a concussion. During the school year, students are so busy with school and extracurriculars that they don’t want to slow down or stop what they love because of an injury, Junior Jonathan Bell said.

“I didn’t think I had a concussion because we were just doing corner kicks and headers at soccer practice, and I do headers all the time because I play defense,” Sklar said. “I didn’t feel that great afterwards, but driving home I felt more dizzy, and at school the next day, it just got worse. We also had a game that I was going to play in, but I told Alex what happened, and he said I couldn’t.”

For students who said they did know about their concussion, it was Jyzk who identified it and made sure that athlete received the proper treatment in advance. Along with Jyzk, Brookline coaches were helpful in the process as well, athletes noted. Even after previous concussions, it is still hard for a teenager to recognize it for themselves, Sklar said.

“I think it wasn’t until the third time I got a concussion that I went to the doctor and actually saw a concussion specialist, and she basically said that I was done playing hockey, but I really didn’t want that,” Senior Kristina Wolinski said. “Since my fourth concussion, I’ve been meeting with a concussion specialist and my pediatrician, but if I get one more concussion, I won’t be able to play any more contact sports.”

According to school nurse April Armstrong, the nursing staff manages concussions through a color stage guide. Red indicates that the student is staying home and going through cognitive testing, orange indicates the student is not participating in a full day of school, yellow indicates the student is going to school for full days and starting to take quizzes or tests and green is the last stage where the student is clear to resume normal school activities and play sports if the doctors allow it.

“We have weekly meetings to go over the different kids, see where they are at and to make sure everyone including the nursing staff is all on the same page. We’ve polished up the system this year and it’s gone very smoothly,” Jyzk said. “It’s really a good balance because the nursing staff communicates with the teachers, guidance counselors and deans, while I connect with coaches and doctors for testing.”

Wolinski said that although she was supported through her recovery at school, the transition coming back was quite overwhelming.

“I missed eight days of school, so a little less than two weeks. It was hard afterwards going to school,” Bell said. “I got incompletes for most of my classes first quarter, and I’m making it up so that hopefully by mid-second quarter I’ll be all caught up.”

Not only is catching up on work a challenge, but just functioning in class is also a big struggle, Wolinski said.

“It’s literally so hard to concentrate, and I’ve never felt that I’ve had those problems before like ADD, but now I feel like I have it, and I think it’s from having so many concussions,” Wolinski said. “I get headaches all the time, and I feel dizzy whenever I play hockey or work out.”

The Brookline Resilient Youth Team (BRYT) is geared directly to help students transition back to school as best as possible. BRYT supports the reintegration of students who have been out of school and/or hospitalized due to emotional, medical, psychiatric or substance issues.

“Thanks to BRYT, the transition was a little easier,” junior Lindsey Glass said. “Jumping back into class isn’t as difficult as the transition in mindset that I have needed to have. I am unable to push as hard as I used to in school, but the caseworkers and tutor in BRYT have helped me make this shift and work with me both on an emotional and academic level.”

Although Brookline high school does have a high number of reported head injuries compared to other schools in Massachusetts, health professionals including Armstrong and Jyzk agreed that it can be attributed to the success of increased concussion awareness and education in the community.

“It’s really encouraged here to tell someone if you have a head injury,” Wolinski said. “I feel that everyone, including the coaches, are so good about reporting the injury and sending you to the trainer or the person you need. It’s just important for people to know that it’s your brain and you need it for literally everything.”

Tasoula Burk can be contacted at [email protected]