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FOX Medical Team

New Georgia law aims to protect young athletes from concussions

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ATLANTA -

Last year, about 1400 kids were treated for concussions at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

In the height of fall sports season, 200 children landed in the system's emergency rooms or urgent cares with suspected concussion. That's a 33 percent increase from the year before.

On Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Nathan deal will sign a new state law designed to protect youth athletes. It's called the "Georgia Return to Play Act."

Concussions have become huge issue. Some 4,000 former NFL players are suing their league for not doing more to protect them from head trauma. RESEARCH is increasingly showing that the damage from concussions builds over time.

It can start early in youth sports.

Druid Hills High School varsity soccer player Brooks Marshall knows all about concussions.

"I've had three, actually," Marshall said.

The junior says he suffered his first concussion running cross country, two more playing soccer.  
"You feel like you're off balance, like you're kind of out of it, and you don't really know what's going on at first, and it's hard to remember certain things," Marshall said.

So, what constitutes a concussion?  And when is it safe to go back in the game?

In six years of coaching, Thomas Bodner says the rules have changed dramatically.

"For example, in the past, I think that they kind of went by if somebody was unconscious, you had to remove them from the game.  And of course, concussions don't have to necessarily knock you out," said Bodner.

Under the Return to Play Act 2013, Georgia school and youth athletic programs must automatically remove athletes suspected of suffering a concussion from play, and they cannot return to play until they've been evaluated and medically cleared.

The American Academy of Neurology is updating its concussion guidelines, too, for the first time in 17 years, getting rid of the old system of grading concussions from 1-3, based on how long a player was knocked out.

"But now the new guidelines say if they get hit and they have a headache, then it's a concussion," said Jennifer Serwitz, a Children's Healthcare of Atlanta certified athletic trainer.

At Druid Hills' practices and games, Serwitz watches for players who are hurt or seem disoriented.

"I stand up for the kids, if the kids can't play, or shouldn't be playing, then I stand up for them," Serwitz said.

Serwitz says the new state law creates standards and mandates concussion training for coaches to take some of the guesswork out of how to respond to a concussed player.

"It's not just like, 'Can you run? You don't have any pain? Can you run? Go ahead and play!' It's making sure that the brain is OK," Serwitz said.

"You know I always worry about getting another concussion, because for me it's really bad, it starts getting to the point where I probably can't play sports again," Marshall said.

Because long after the match, Marshall and teammates have something much bigger ahead: their whole lives.

"It's not that big of a deal that they miss a game or two to make sure that their brain is OK," Serwitz said.

The governor will sign the bill Tuesday morning at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

The law also mandates concussion training for coaches and it requires schools to provide young athletes with information about concussions.

Lawmakers strongly urged schools to follow the lead of programs like Druid Hills High School. They give each student athlete a baseline cognitive test before the season begins. That can help assess how a concussion affects a student, and how quickly it's safe to return to play.

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