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JOHN DOHERTY: Advocate for concussion awareness deserves our thanks

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I introduced Seattle Seahawks team physician Dr. Stanley Herring, to readers 11 years ago. Four years before that, the physical medicine specialist had been introduced to Zack Lystedt just prior to a Seahawks game.

When Herring asked the teenager why he was there, Lystedt managed to say, "I'm here to help people."

Those "people" were athletes experiencing the symptoms of a seemingly mild head injury, but being allowed to continue to play.

Lystedt’s motivation? He suffered an apparent concussion while playing in a junior high football game in 2006. Game film shows Lystedt making a tackle but landing hard on the back of his head. He immediately grabs his head on both sides, but quickly gets to his feet. Not allowed to return for the remainder of the first half, he played the entire second half despite complaining of a headache. At the game's conclusion, he walked off the field only to collapse in his father's arms.

Emergency brain surgery was needed to save Lystedt’s life. However, it didn't save the quality of that life. It would be months before Lystedt could walk or talk again. To this day, he remains severely affected by his injury.

Despite Lystedt’s difficulty communicating, Herring got the message. “After almost four decades in medicine, I met my hero,” Herring told Fox 13 Seattle two years ago when recalling the sideline encounter.

From that moment on, Herring became a champion of what was to become known as the Lystedt Law. His efforts paid off in May 2009, when Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the legislation which has three main components:

1. Mandatory annual education programs for all youth athletes, parents/guardians, and coaches regarding the danger of concussion each year.

2. Automatic removal of any athlete suspected of having a concussion from game/practice.

3. Return to play in subsequent days or weeks only with written clearance from a licensed healthcare provider.

Within one year, 14 states had followed suit. Contacted at that time, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniel’s office said such legislation was not part of his agenda. However, by the time I interviewed Herring 12 months later in 2011, Daniels was on the verge of making Indiana the 17th state to follow Washington’s lead.

On January 30, 2014, Mississippi became the 50th state to enact the law, with Herring — and the NFL — leading the way. Three days later, the Seahawks defeated the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Yet, Herring has said since that the win was only the second-best thing that happened that weekend.

As a result of the Lystedt Law’s nationwide enactment, countless thousands of high school and youth athletes have been and will continue to be better protected from the effects of sports-related head trauma. Largely, they have Herring to thank.

Perhaps now, the man who also served as a team doctor for the Mariners and co-founded the Sports Medicine Institute at the University of Washington, will be able to enjoy the kudos and reflect on his legacy. Because, after 32 years on the Seahawks sideline, Herring announced his retirement from the team earlier this month.

Younger sports medics should be grateful to Herring for setting a standard of head injury care that is now widely accepted by coaches, players, and parents and no longer controversial.

The end of e-cigarettes?

November 2019 should not seem like it was very long ago. However, since it was pre-COVID, it seems like ancient history.

Back then, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) — to which the IHSAA (Indiana) and IHSA (Illinois) belong — published an article on its website entitled “Vaping: Misconceptions and Pitfalls for Student-Athletes.”

A month later, Dr. Renea Jablonski, assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Chicago, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at Community Hospital about the newly discovered syndrome “E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury” (EVALI) which, at that point, had claimed at least 52 lives nationwide.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stopped tracking the syndrome after February 2020, apparently because the number of cases had dropped and COVID was rapidly taking up nearly all of the agency’s bandwidth.

However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) never forgot about the danger of the devices and last week banned one manufacturer from marketing the products. On Thursday, the FDA ordered Juul to stop selling their e-cigarettes.

On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a temporary stay of the FDA order until that court is able to fully review the case.

Nonetheless, the FDA seems on the verge of consigning the highly addictive devices to the ashbin of history. Good riddance, if the agency succeeds.

Ogunjobi update

Back in March, the Bears were trumpeting the signing of free agent defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi to a three-year, $40.5M contract, $26M of which was guaranteed. Only it was not quite guaranteed.

Days later, with much less fanfare, the Bears were revealing that Ogunjobi had failed his physical due to major foot surgery, from which he had not satisfactorily recovered.

Fast forward to last week and another franchise, with a much better record than the Bears for doing its due diligence, was signing Ogunjobi. The Steelers were far more cautious and not nearly as generous. They inked the tackle to a one-year, incentive laden deal, worth up to $8M.

Ultimately, the Steelers are risking far less for someone they know far better than the Bears did. Ogunjobi has played his entire career in the AFC North, his first four seasons in Cleveland and then last year in Cincinnati. There, he racked up 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

Fortunately for the Bears, they do not play the Steelers this year. Had it been otherwise, I am sure Ogunjobi would have delighted in displaying just how well his foot has recovered.

John Doherty is a licensed athletic trainer and physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at jdoherty@comhs.org. Follow him Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.

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