Recognizing the contributions of UM’s concussion experts and a high school soccer player lucky enough to be one of their patients, Governor Rick Scott visited The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis last week to officially sign into law a bill designed to safeguard Florida’s youth athletes from the potentially devastating consequences of brain injuries suffered on the playing field.
Spearheaded by a state task force led by Gillian Hotz, Ph.D., research professor of neurological surgery and director of UM’s Concussion Program, and sponsored by state Senator Anitere Flores of Miami, the law bars young athletes who endure concussions from returning to practice or play until they are cleared by a physician. It also requires parents to sign informed consent forms acknowledging they are aware of the risks of concussion.
“Too many times we hear stories of our athletes being told, ‘Hey, you just got a bump on the head. Shake it off, and get back in the game because we really need you,’’’ Flores said. “Unfortunately, years down the line, we see the issues.”
Hotz, director of the KIDZ Neuroscience Center, helped build UM’s Concussion Program into a national model for concussion management, research, training and education. She said school-age athletes too often suffer long-term cognitive, physical and psychological impairments by returning to play too soon after a bump or blow to the head, or after multiple concussions. “Concussion is a national epidemic,” she said.
Both she and Flores credited David Goldstein and his parents, Cheryl and Adam, for the celebratory October 12 bill-signing ceremony proudly attended by UM President Donna E. Shalala, Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Miami Project founder Barth A. Green, M.D., professor and chair of neurological surgery, and a host of dignitaries. Now a high school senior and captain of the soccer team at Miami’s Ransom Everglades School, David suffered his third concussion in four years in January 2010, just as Hotz launched the state task force to push for passage of the concussion bill.
After nearly four months of relentless pain, sensitivity to light and deep despair over being told no one could allay his symptoms and he’d never play soccer again, David and his parents found Hotz and Kester Nedd, D.O., voluntary associate professor of neurology and Medical Director of the Concussion Program at UM’s Sports Medicine Clinic. “They applied their concussion expertise to my injury and turned my life around,” David said. “I cannot thank Dr. Hotz and Dr. Nedd enough for helping me be symptom-free and able to be myself again.”
Determined to help other students avoid the torment he endured, David launched a concussion awareness and fundraising campaign at Ransom to ensure all Miami-Dade County public high school athletes undergo a baseline ImPACT test, a computerized neurocognitive evaluation that can be used to assess post-injury cognitive function. Today, Miami-Dade is the first county in the nation to provide the test to all high-schoolers who play contact sports.
He also spent countless hours pushing for passage of the concussion bill, receiving “a rude awakening” when it was defeated last year. But on Friday, his persistence paid off as he watched Governor Scott sign the legislation.
As Miami Project President Marc Buoniconti quipped in expressing his admiration for David, “Watch out for this kid, Governor. … He may have your job soon.”
President Shalala joked that she’d gladly give her job to David, and told the audience that Lee Kaplan, M.D., Chief of the Division of Sports Medicine and Medical Director and Head Team Physician of UM Athletics, and his team rightfully have more power at UM than she does. “If they say you can’t play, if they say you have to come in and see them … no one can overrule them,” she said.
Dean Goldschmidt expressed his gratitude to Hotz and other concussion researchers and bill advocates for ensuring that coaches, athletic trainers, parents and students will take head injuries seriously. “I applaud all of those who are contributing to this extremely important mission,” he said.
Thanking Hotz, Green, and all of UM for its “admirable” work, Scott dedicated the new law to Daniel Brett, a Broward County high school freshman who took his own life after enduring two years of long-term effects, including dizziness, mood swings and migraines, following multiple concussions playing football. His mother is now working with Broward Schools to bring baseline ImPACT testing and education to high school athletes.
“This bill cannot bring Daniel back,” Scott said, “but it will live in his memory and hopefully protect the health and welfare of other students for generations to come.”