My son Kyle started ice skating when he was about three years old and started playing hockey when he was four. At that age, there is no hitting or checking its just kids having fun skating around and harmlessly falling on the ice. As he got older, and his hockey skills got better he began to play in some advanced leagues and the hitting began and the falls became a little less harmless. Kyle was very lucky through the years, as some of his teammates sustained broken bones and bloody noses, Kyle skated through without any significant injuries. All that changed at a tournament in Pittsburgh three years ago.
Kyle had just dumped the puck in the opposing team's zone and was skating to the bench at the end of his shift, when a player from the Pittsburgh team hit Kyle from behind. It was an illegal hit, and the Pittsburgh player was penalized but the force of the hit knocked Kyle into the boards and he hit his head. I was in the stands and I was scared to death as I saw my son laying on the ice motionless. When I got down to the ice to see him, he was completely in a daze. He did not know who I was, he did not remember that he had two sisters, he did not know his mom's name, he did not know where he was, he did not know what day it was, he wasn't even sure of his name. The paramedics came, put a hard plastic collar around his neck, completely immobilized his head and took him off the ice on a stretcher. We went to the hospital in the ambulance and during the ride Kyle had a hard time recalling anything that had happened. At the hospital, the doctors did a number of tests and Kyle had to lay motionless on a table for about 5 hours before he was released.
The next day when we got back to Cleveland, Kyle was seen by a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic, luckily the CT Scans did not show that he had any bleeding in the brain. The doctor said that Kyle had sustained a grade 3 concussion and was not allowed back on the ice for 6 weeks. He had to wear a hard collar at school and keep his head as still as possible. He had really bad headaches and felt dizzy for a number of weeks. After about 5 weeks had passed, he started to feel better. After 6 weeks he was able to get back on the ice, but he was only allowed to skate, he was not allowed to play in any games or have any contact at practice. It was just strictly skating. The doctor told us that if he sustained another concussion he would have to stop playing hockey completely. The doctor explained that a second concussion may not cause long term effects but a third certainly would. He would have to stop playing completely if he sustained a second concussion because a third could be devastating and affect him for the rest of his life.
Thankfully, Kyle has been able to resume playing the sport he loves without any other injuries or incidents and he he is looking forward to a big year with his high school team, but every time he is on the ice I remember that night in Pittsburgh, and I also think about when I was his age and I was playing sports how concussions weren't really considered that serious. I remember coaches putting kids back into games just a few minutes after they came out of a game dazed and confused. Back then, the coaches didn't know, the parents didn't know and the doctors probably didn't know how life changing concussions can be. We know now that concussions need to be taken seriously and that multiple concussions can have long term effects.