Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bill would require brain-injury training for high school coaches

An East Bay lawmaker wants high school coaches to be trained to recognize and manage signs of traumatic brain injury, like the kind that recently claimed the life of actress Natasha Richardson.

AB533, legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Hayward, was introduced Feb. 25. It will be heard by the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday.

The bill would require not only that coaches be trained to look for and deal with signs of head and neck injuries, concussions, second-impact syndrome, asthma attacks, heatstroke and heart attack, but also that they be trained in emergency action planning and communicating effectively with 911 emergency services.

Hayashi said she became interested in the issue after a New York Times article noted that head injuries led to at least 51 deaths or critically injured U.S. high school and youth football players from 1997 to 2007.

Five of those cases, including four deaths, were clustered between San Joaquin County and the Bay Area, meaning the region saw more such cases than every state except Texas and Washington, she said.

"We've been receiving a lot of support from all over the country" for the bill, she said Friday, and that support was mounting even before Richardson's death put the issue under a spotlight.

"This problem has been around for a long time, ... a very dangerous trend," Hayashi said.

Richardson, 45, a Tony Award winner, died from an epidural hematoma — Advertisementbleeding between the skull and the brain's covering — caused by a fall she took on a ski slope in Canada, an autopsy found. Doctors said she might have survived had she received immediate treatment.

A CT scan can detect bleeding, bruising or the beginning of swelling in the brain — information on which surgeons can act to save a life — but someone must recognize symptoms early enough to demand such a scan.

Head trauma results in more fatalities than any other sport injury and is the cause of most football fatalities, but it can occur in other sports, Hayashi said., such as soccer, wrestling, track and baseball.

An estimated 250,000 concussions occur every year in football alone, and repeated concussions within a short period can be deadly.

At least 13 states require coaches to complete a training program like the one Hayashi's bill would mandate, while several others and the federal government are considering similar legislation. A general first-aid training program has been available for California coaches since 1999, but only on an optional basis.

If signed into law, Hayashi's bill would take effect at the end of 2010.

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