Concussions: When teens don't recover

Published On: Apr 24 2014 11:32:48 AM CDT   Updated On: Apr 24 2014 10:48:45 PM CDT

Waiting rooms and doctor visits have become routine for Inman High School freshman Tanner Knackstead.

Six months after a hit on the football field, Tanner still has a long recovery ahead.

“All the sudden we heard a loud pop,” said Becky Knackstead, Tanner’s mom. She said she knew right away it was more than just a hard hit.

“I knew something was wrong," she said. "He wasn't responding well to the coach.”

Tanner remembers the part before he passed out.

“My vision was blurry," he said.  "I didn't know where I was. I almost ran to the opposing team's sideline."

It was Tanner’s second concussion. This one was different, and would become the fight of his life.

“He [the doctor] told us he was in the worst 5 of the cases he'd ever seen,” Becky said.

Tanner and his family invited us along to the University of Kansas Hospital. The hospital has a concussion center where a team of doctors treat everyone from high school athletes to NFL players.

Tanner was there to see neurologist Dr. Michael Rippee.

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“He's still dealing with focus and memory issues," Dr. Rippee said. "It impacts his ability to make it through school."

Tanner's symptoms are so severe his school re-arranged his schedule. His more difficult classes are now in the morning, that's if he even makes it to school. Six months after the injury, crippling headaches keep Tanner home for hours, even days at a time.

“They make you feel like you want to throw up,” Tanner said.

Tanner, a straight-A student according to his mom, now struggles to keep up.

“We have some A's, some B's, some C's,” Becky said.

“Concussions, as much as we like to think they are preventable, there are instances they will get hurt no matter what we do,” said Dr. Randall Goldstein, Director of Youth Sports Medicine at the University of Kansas Hospital.

But, he said doctors who treat patients like Tanner are learning more about concussions and doing so at an amazing pace.

“Things change so quickly in this field with concussions that tomorrow you could do a different story with a different doctor and learn more," Goldstein said. "It may have changed a little bit from what we talked about tonight."

When it comes to prevention, Goldstein said better equipment is not the answer.

“Equipment doesn't prevent a concussion,” he said.

He also doesn't like to pick on football. Young athletes suffer head injuries in other sports too, and even though football leads to many concussions, he said there are many players who don’t suffer head injuries.

“There are more not getting concussions than those who are,” Goldstein said.

So, should parents allow their children to play football?

There’s no easy answer, and most doctors struggle with the decision for their own children.

Both Rippee and Goldstein think the benefits for football or any other sport outweigh the risks, and are not suggesting parents keep their kids from playing.

What they do see in the future are rule changes.

“Last year, I would say nothing can change football," Goldstein said. "Now this year, I would say there will be rule changes for sure."

Rule changes, but also research to better treat and prevent concussions.

“Should you avoid sports because of a concussion? I love sports and we need to work on it to make it safer,” says Goldstein.