The scene is familiar: A receiver soars into the air to catch a pass. A defender zooms in to make sure he can’t catch it. The collision that ensues sometimes leaves fans breathless – especially when one of the fans is a parent of the receiver.
Such was the case a half decade ago, when Jay Pritcher, the dad, looked on as Mason Pritcher, the receiver, reached for the ball. “He jumped high to catch a pass in a game, was undercut on the tackle, and his head impacted the turf first,” Jay recalls. He also recalls the fall, from approximately seven and a half feet in the air. Both dad and son knew something wasn’t right. They would soon discover Mason had a suffered a concussion.
It was several weeks before Mason, then a junior at Pantego Christian Academy, would be cleared to play again. Jay, then the headmaster at the school, spent the time learning a tremendous amount from Dr. Jacob Resch and Dr. Damond Blueitt as the physicians teamed to take care of his son.
“Dr. Resch sent us to Dr. Blueitt at the Ben Hogan Center in Fort Worth after the diagnosis of concussion,” Jay says. Blueitt is a sports medicine physician with a specialty in orthopedics and complex concussion issues. “Dr. Blueitt was amazing, and together with Dr. Resch, gave us great comfort as parents during a very concerning time.”
Ultimately, Mason’s situation spawned some remarkable insight as Dr. Resch conducted research and Pantego Christian partnered with him and the UTA Brain Injury Lab to provide concussion oversight for the school’s athletes in exchange for being included in his research on concussions in middle school, high school and college athletes.
“Dr. Resch had advanced equipment and knowledge that was key in safeguarding the PCA athletes against the dangers of returning to play too soon based upon each athlete’s individual testing,” Jay says.
Dr. Resch moved to the University of Virginia in 2014, but not before providing valuable information that helped school officials, parents and players learn more than they could have previously imagined about what can happen to the head in violent collisions in sporting events.
“A brain injury is very difficult to deal with as a parent because of the unseen and unknown,” Jay says. “You can see a broken arm or a torn ligament (with MRI), and you know the outcome with high probability. The same can’t be said for a brain injury since each is amazingly unique – you can’t see the injury, and the outcome is frequently unknown.” After working with Dr Blueitt, Jay asked him to give a seminar to the school’s athletes and their parents at PCA, and he used Mason’s situation in the discussions.
“Mason had done baseline testing on Dr. Resch’s machines, so we were familiar with the evaluation process,” Jay says. “We knew that night that he had a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI/concussion) of some kind since he kept repeating himself, etc. We also knew that emergency rooms and most doctors are not well equipped to provide accurate diagnosis of mTBI/concussion since (1) you need the baseline of tests to accurately compare and measure the change caused by mTBI, and (2) concussions don’t show up on MRI or CT scans, although bleeds do.”
No. 1 is particularly important in avoiding second-impact syndrome. When Mason’s concussion occurred, the Pritchers were comforted knowing he had very good, multiple baselines to compare against and had medical care with expertise in mTBI. Drs. Resch and Blueitt were able to put what the family observed and the test results (the difference between baseline and post-concussion tests) into context to provide invaluable information on how to treat Mason – what activities/situations to avoid, etc. – to give him the best opportunity to heal quickly. And heal he did – he is now a senior at Dallas Baptist University and plays for the school’s lacrosse team.
“While the unknown of brain injury is quite scary to athletes and parents, the compassion and expertise [we experienced] made us feel very comfortable as we went through Mason’s healing process,” Jay says. “The doctors patiently answered all of our questions and even anticipated some of our concerns. One of the most important services was their in-depth examinations/evaluations before clearing Mason for activity and ultimately a return to contact. Second-impact syndrome is one of the scariest outcomes, and their expertise was critical in avoiding that possibility.”
Drs. Resch and Blueitt also provided some information to share with teachers about a concussed students’ recovery. Recovery can take weeks and necessitate missing some school, wearing sunglasses in class, and certain accommodations in learning. “The school needs to be on-board, so the student is not punished for their injury,” Jay says. “Again, it’s easy to recognize that an athlete is in recovery from a broken arm or torn ligament, but an athlete recovering from a brain injury frequently looks like every other student but still needs accommodations during recovery to be successful.”