High school athlete turns injury into crusade for better treatment of concussion injuries around state

High school athlete turns injury into crusade for better treatment of concussion injuries around state

Sunday, August 05, 2012
by Hal Habib

David Goldstein, shown speaking in Tallahassee, has fought to make it illegal for virtually any high school or youth league in Florida to allow a child to return to practice or play if he’s suspected of suffering a traumatic brain injury without first receiving written medical clearance. (Photo courtesy Countywide Concussion Care)


NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series.

Part 1: After son’s tragedy, S. Fla. mother strives to reduce football concussions in youths


The story of David Goldstein begins like many — make that too many — young athletes.

One concussion was followed by another, then a third. If they were scary, the way he handled them, in retrospect, was more frightening. He played two full soccer matches immediately following the second concussion because it was State Cup weekend in Wellington. He didn’t come out of the match following his third concussion because it was a high school district title match. He figured his team needed him.

Disconcerting as that is with what we know about concussions today, David Goldstein, 17, would be the first to say none of that makes his story unique. Kids suffer concussions every day, he points out.

No, what happened next does make Goldstein’s story unique.

First, he got better under the guidance of two University of Miami physicians who have become leading experts on such injuries.

Then, he got going. Convinced by doctors Gillian Hotz and Kester Nedd that baseline testing is an important tool in protecting athletes, he worked to make the test available at his school, Miami-Ransom Everglades. Next, recognizing that public schools in Miami-Dade County aren’t afforded the benefits that private schools enjoy, Goldstein decided to raise $20,000 to introduce the cognitive test to all public schools in Dade.

Still not enough.

Zeroing in on state laws, he fought to make it illegal for virtually any high school or youth league in Florida to allow a child to return to practice or play if he’s suspected of suffering a traumatic brain injury without first receiving written medical clearance. It also requires informed consent to play.

He’s also determined to make baseline testing standard throughout Florida even if it means working county by county, a push that likely helped inspire Palm Beach County schools this year to follow Dade and Broward’s lead.

To say Goldstein’s efforts went just as planned isn’t quite accurate. The bill he championed initially was defeated in the state legislature but his persistence was rewarded when Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law in April. David monitored passage of the bill via computer at school, success etched so clearly across his face that students he didn’t even know were high-fiving, hugging and applauding him. The vote was unanimous.

Oh, and he did not raise $20,000. He raised close to double that.

“My doctors’ motivation to help other people through their research kind of made me realize that I have an opportunity,” Goldstein says. “That I can be the face of local efforts and try to expand them because I’ve gone through it. I was willing to put my face out there. I was willing to go out and raise the money that no one else had time to raise.”

Marc Buoniconti, president of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, describes Goldstein as remarkable and selfless.

“David has just been a great ally in this initiative,” Buoniconti says. He works with Goldstein through The Miami Project’s KiDZ Neuroscience Center, which researches traumatic brain injuries because they’re closely associated to spinal cord injuries. “He’s so well-spoken and his story is so dramatic and so spot-on, that it just goes to show you a kid like David, a young kid, is just a great role model.”

Goldstein, whose family lives in Buoniconti’s former Coral Gables home, left an impression on Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who sponsored Goldstein’s bill. David sought to shed light on a dark, often confounding condition. He didn’t want other kids to experience the partial diagnoses, of being told to never play sports again, of needing to nap in the school nurse’s office because of headaches, fatigue and nausea — what he endured before meeting Hotz and Nedd.

“He recognizes that he is incredibly blessed with family support, and rather than sit back and say ‘good for me,’ he’s gone into communities locally and across the state advocating for what he knows will save lives,” Flores said via e-mail. “I can go on and on because David is that special. I’ll just end by saying that the world needs to keep an eye on David Goldstein because his talent and commitment is far from being exhausted!”

It hasn’t been without a price. Goldstein, a senior who is expected to be Ransom’s captain, is easily distinguishable on the field.

“I actually wear a rugby helmet when I play soccer now, which may not be the greatest fashion statement in the world, but it allows me to play the sport that I love,” he says.

Opposing fans, who have no idea what’s behind the helmet, make him a target.

“Some of the abuse I’ve heard would not be approved by the FCC — not even close,” he says. “I’ve heard some of the meanest things that I’ve ever heard in my life directed at me just for wearing a helmet. … Parents yelling ‘special ed’ at me. And you’ve just got to have the mental and emotional fortitude to realize that those people just don’t matter in your life.”

Cheryl Goldstein, his mother, admits it can be tough to hear.

“You look at this world and you look at how cruel people can be and I’m glad that David is tough enough, at least on the outside, to take it,” she says. “But it impacts him on the inside, as he’s human. I just hope that there’s a lesson in tolerance.”

Like Cheryl, David has testified before the state legislature.

“He felt comfortable to talk about it publicly, which is not something that a lot of children would be willing to do, because obviously he’s talking about problems that he had in his head,” says his father, Adam.

Flores says David not only caught on to the political process quickly, “he dominated it.” She adds, “He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He would fight half truths and misstatements from the other side with facts and figures in a methodical way.”

Adam Goldstein is president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, but even though a cruise was the grand prize in a drawing that raised the initial $8,000 at Ransom-Everglades, Adam and Cheryl had David go through standard channels to obtain that donation.

“I admit that we are fortunate to know people who have the means to make contributions and who certainly are charitable in other areas of life, but he needed to sit down with every person who contributed to him and explain in person — without us there — what he was doing, why he was doing it and to ask them for money,” Adam says.

David: “It’s definitely a welcome-to-the-real world experience. Usually when I’m talking to adults, in a sense, I’m asking them for help on my homework. I’m not asking them for as much money as they’re willing to give me.”

Nervous? Not really. His cause “almost gave the people I was asking for money no choice” but to help, he says. “When you have passion about anything, it’s an invaluable tool.”

Goldstein, an A student in honors classes, hopes to attend Princeton, his father’s alma mater, and perhaps someday coach. He says until he meets with those who have backed him, he’s unsure of his next steps in the concussion fight … yet in the next breath, he rattles off that he must make sure Dade’s baseline program is self-sufficient for when he leaves for college. He’s got to continue educating coaches, parents and athletes. He has youth organizations to get onboard. Work on his site, countywideconcussioncare.com. Et cetera.

“Kids are getting concussions today,” he says. “They’ll be getting concussions tomorrow. They’ve gotten concussions yesterday. In Florida. All over the country. All over the world. And they don’t know who to turn to.

“They’re going back into the game too early. Second-impact syndrome is happening. People are researching more about CTE — these tragedies keep occurring in NFL players. There’s still more work to be done.

“I’m very happy with what I’ve been able to do but I’m not done and don’t intend to be for a while.”

Says Buoniconti: “I would watch that kid in the future.”