PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Palm Beach County high school athletes took an important safety step Thursday when the Cleveland Clinic agreed to underwrite and launch baseline testing for selected sports including football this school year.
Yetta Greene, instructional specialist for athletics, called baseline testing "an extra tool" that will help physicians determine when an athlete can resume activity following a traumatic brain injury, including concussions.
Because everyone's skills vary, doctors use baseline tests to obtain a "before" snapshot of an athlete's cognitive ability. Any athlete suffering a brain injury can then retake the test to determine if he or she has healed sufficiently to resume activity. Research has shown that athletes returning too soon and suffering subsequent brain injuries are especially susceptible to permanent damage.
The test is a 20-minute, computerized assessment often marketed as Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (Impact). Baseline testing is used for Miami-Dade and Broward high school athletes and is gathering acceptance throughout the country.
Although details remain to be worked out, Greene expects the test to be offered to all public school varsity and junior varsity football players about the time they report for practice Aug. 6. Provided their parents sign a consent form, they can then take the test for free. Like all medical records, results will be confidential.
"What they're offering to do right now is wonderful," Greene said of the Cleveland Clinic. "We don't have to worry about the financial end right now. We just have to figure out how to logistically make it happen. I'm sure we will."
The Cleveland Clinic is instructing members of Gold Coast Physical Therapy, which supplies athletic trainers to many area schools, on how to administer the test in computer labs at each school. Those schools whose trainers come from other sources will be folded into the program, Greene said.
Greene hopes to also test athletes in two other "high-contact sports," likely soccer and lacrosse, this school year before branching out to all sports.
The program is one in a series of safety measures governing bodies are implementing in response to rising concerns and awareness of traumatic brain injuries. Those injuries are blamed in the deaths of numerous retired NFL players including Pahokee's Andre Waters, who suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), whose symptoms include depression and dementia.
The Florida High School Athletic Association, as directed by the state legislature, has stepped up guidelines, education and consent requirements for coaches, parents and athletes for this school year. Any athlete suffering a concussion cannot return to activity until he's cleared by a health care professional.
Broward has made baseline testing mandatory. Its $60,000 program is covered by grants from the University of Pittsburgh and Dick's Sporting Goods in conjunction with Nova Southeastern University researchers. Damian Huttenhoff, who directs athletics for Broward schools, said tests cost about $10 per student.
Dade's program is funded by the family of Adam Goldstein, a senior at Miami-Ransom Everglades who suffered a concussion playing soccer. It is coordinated through a University of Miami program led by Dr. Gillian Hotz.
Vinny Scavo, director of athletic trainers at UM, said any school district not employing baseline testing is making a mistake.
"They need to spend some time with Dr. Hotz and just see what they deal with every day and realize they will start baseline testing," Scavo said.
Thursday, Palm Beach joined the chorus.
"If you listen to stories on the news about NFL players, it's about multiple concussions and the problem of coming back too soon," Greene said.
Athletes and parents will now have added peace of mind. Doctors will have important evidence.
"When a doctor is saying, ‘He's OK to return to play,' he's got more information on whether he's really ready to return to play," Greene said.