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Sport system helps detect concussions in student athletes

In 2009, the number of kids under 19 suffering traumatic brain injuries reached nearly 250,000.
October 14, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
In 2009, the number of kids under 19 suffering traumatic brain injuries reached nearly 250,000. Widespread efforts are underway to prevent and recognize concussions when they occur. One local high school is using some sophisticated technology to keep their athletes safe.

During football practice at St. Francis High School in La Canada Flintridge , high school sophomore Jacob De La Hoya got hit. No one was sure how bad his brain injury was.

"They tested my sight, they tested if I could focus on things," said De La Hoya.

He seemed OK at first. So did 15-year-old Joe Huepler when he injured his head.

"Right after I got the concussion I felt fine, to an extent," said Huepler.

After checking for symptoms and putting the students through cognition testing, the boys were given a standard test for balance.

But head athletic trainer Eli Hallak says those tests aren't always reliable.

"For years it was really difficult to study the balance because it was so subjective," said Hallak.

Now the school has an objective way of testing an athlete's balance called the VSR Sport Portable Balance system from NeuroCom. St. Francis High is the first in California, and one of three nationwide, to have such a device.

Huepler suffered his concussion in August. His score shows he's getting better. But not enough to get back to playing, since he has a history of concussions.

"It's upsetting. I guess it's for the best," said Huepler.

"The first week alone, we caught six young men who passed the cognition test," said Hallak.

Unlike other balance equipment that only measures force, this NeuroCom VSR analyzes the pressure and change and measures the velocity of the movement.

"It's also going to help analyze when they're able to get back to play safely because the biggest concern is returning them to play thinking they're safe but they still have balance issues," said Hallak.

The system costs $15,000, but for the players it saves it's priceless.

"The way they looked at it is, if you save one young person from going back out on the field too early, it's paid for itself," said Hallak.

"This machine can actually save your life," said De La Hoya.

The head athletic trainer says the concussion system is not just for football players, it's for all athletes.


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