Concussion crisis met with preventive measures

ARLINGTON, Va. (WJLA) -- Sophie Yoder is already a year-round, four-sport athlete. But one attempted flip into a pool put a stop to her active lifestyle this summer.

"I didn't make it all the way around and hit my head on the lip of the pool and had to be pulled out by a lifeguard,” explained Sophie.

As a result, the 10-year-old suffered a major concussion.

"She would look at me with a blank stare as if the words were not processing immediately through her brain," said her mother, Beth. "For a child who is so quick, it was distressing to see that the light in her brain was not on."

As scary as that was for the Yoder family in Arlington, it pales in comparison to what the Sheely family of Germantown is enduring.

Derek Sheely died after suffering from Second Impact Syndrome. He sustained back-to-back concussions during football practices at Frostburg State in 2011. The Sheelys are suing their son's coaches, the NCAA, and the helmet manufacturer. This week, they said publicly:

"It is inconceivable to us how, with all the attention on concussions, there is still no unified enforcement to prevent dangerous drills, stop false safety claims, or ensure proper medical attention to concussed athletes."

Next month, PBS' Frontline is running a documentary called “League of Denial” about what it calls the “NFL’s concussion crisis.” Just this week, ESPN pulled out of the project, insisting it would continue to pursue the issue of concussions on its own.

And new this fall, Inova will be providing sideline neurosurgeons at Redskins games.

A neurologist in Fairfax, Dr. Jack Cochran is the Medical Director of the Inova Concussion Program. He says he sees many more young athletes than ever before.

"In years gone by, people didn't admit they were hurt, they'd go right back to play," he said. "Now the culture is evolving, educating parents, coaches and athletes to be on the same page. In the past, parents and others pushed to get kids back in the game. Everyone who has a concussion should sit out. They should not play again until they are perfectly asymptomatic."

Fairfax County just became the first in the nation to adopt the 'Heads Up' football program, and the Arlington Soccer Association now has players and parents sign a concussion waiver. However, the waiver is not meant to offer the league legal protection, as it would not hold up in court.

It does ask players and parents to play by this rule: 'When in doubt, sit them out.'

"I don't want anyone thinking an extra five minutes or playing in another game is more important than what a kid can do potentially for the rest of his or her life," said Justin Wilt, the Executive Director of the Arlington Soccer Association.

In the one month since her injury, Sophie is almost ready for contact sports – but not quite yet. Her mother isn't sure if she'll ever let her guard down. "As she goes back to practice, I almost feel like I'm sending her to war."