Sports concussion affects boy's memory


by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 HealthLink

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Posted on April 9, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Updated Saturday, Apr 9 at 11:26 AM

Eleven-year-old Blake Rogalski is a bright student and strong athlete. But a few weeks ago a basketball bounced off the rim at a practice and hit his head.

"I saw him like almost fainting, and then he like stayed still," said teammate Aaron Ao.

Aaron was the only one at practice who saw the hit. Later, on the car ride home, he asked Blake to count his fingers.

"They were pretty easy numbers like two, one, three. But I didn't get them," said Blake.

As a result, Blake's family took him to the emergency department that night. But it was the next day's follow-up visit with a pediatrician that shocked his mother. 

"Basically Blake thought that these pretty labels that were on the drawers in the doctors office, he thought they were pictures. He couldn't grasp the concept of words," said Carol Rogalski.

The hit by the ball wasn't dramatic. But Blake's memory loss was.

"I remembered my mom and dad. I didn't remember my brother," Blake said.

"Twenty-five years ago when I first started in medicine, to call something a concussion you had to be knocked out. Now we know that's just not true. Ninety percent of all concussions, you're not knocked out," explained neurosurgeon Dr. Richard Ellenbogen.

Dr. Ellenbogen is an attending neurosurgeon at Seattle Children's and also Professor and Chairman of Neurological Surgery at the University of Washington. He said participation in sports holds many benefits for kids. So he doesn't want to scare parents away from letting kids play. But he advised coaches parents and players to watch for concussion's warning signs, to make sports safer.

"You might have a headache, confused, not sure what the last play was," he said.

In that case he advised, a child needs to come out of play immediately. Then the child must be seen by a healthcare provider before returning to play.

A new study in the Journal of Athletic Training, conducted by the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, showed concussion symptoms might be different for girls and boys. Most reported headaches. But more girls had drowsiness and sensitivity to noise. More boys were disoriented and had memory loss. That's what happened to Blake.

"I didn't remember my dogs' names, and I thought they were cats," he said.

"It surprised us. We've attended several concussion classes and it still surprised us," recalled his mother.

Dr. Ellenbogen said recovery can't be rushed.

"It turns out there are long term effects of not healing from your concussion. And healing means you have to rest. Both cognitive rest and physical rest."

"It was this chapter we were on," said Blake pointing to his Social Studies text. "They just looked like a foreign language. I couldn't read any of it," he said.

Teachers had to give him a break from studies. At the beginning that meant letting Blake leave class to rest in the health room two to three times a day. But with that modification, and a complete hold on all physical activity, P.E., and sports, Blake was symptom free in about a month.

"We knew it was just a matter of time for him to heal," said his mom.

Blake needed a doctor's note to return to his team. Washington State's concussion law says kids with concussions must be cleared by a health care provider before they can return to sports.