Giving back to the community’s youth through safer game play
High school football is a major tradition in our community. Thousands are drawn to those Friday night lights all over the Louisville area every weekend in the fall.
As a partner with Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) and with a long-standing mission of being an advocate for the health and safety of children, Norton Healthcare recently announced it would fund the purchase of new, safer football helmets for JCPS high school football players as well as expand concussion education and testing.
The Norton Sports Health program continually looks for ways to be on the forefront of health and safety for athletes, so when leaders learned that some of JCPS’s football helmets fell short of what’s considered adequately safe, the decision to purchase helmets and step up concussion testing and education was simple.
“We work closely with JCPS and so we wanted to find a way to make this situation better,” said Steven T. Hester, M.D., MBA, chief medical officer for Norton Healthcare. “We understand it’s not always financially feasible for a public school to be able to make a major purchase like this, so we are pleased that we are able to do so and help improve the safety of our community’s student athletes.”
JCPS high school football helmets were rated using the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings system, a five-star scoring system with 5 being the best and 0 being the worst. Approximately 26 percent of the helmets ranked 2 stars or less. Two stars represent “adequate” protection, 1 star is “marginal” and 0 stars are not recommended. Norton Healthcare will be replacing the unsafe helmets with 4-star helmets, which are considered “very good.”
“While a player can sustain a concussion wearing any type of helmet, the quality of the helmet can greatly reduce that risk,” said Tad D. Seifert, M.D., neurologist and director of the sports concussion program for Norton Healthcare. “The difference between a 1- or 2-star helmet and a higher-rated helmet is dramatic. It can cut head acceleration in half because it’s better able to absorb shock.”
Head acceleration is a major cause of brain injury in football. It occurs when a blow causes the skull to move forward and strike the brain, which was stationary. The new helmets will last 10 years and will be reconditioned after each season.
In addition, Norton Healthcare will provide ImPACT testing for all football players in JCPS middle and high schools and any other JCPS high school students who play high-impact sports. ImPACT, which stands for Immediate Postconcussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, is a computerized evaluation system that is similar to playing a video game.
“When ImPACT is given prior to an injury, we have a baseline analysis of the player’s brain function,” Dr. Seifert said. “If the player sustains an injury in which a concussion is suspected, the ImPACT test is given again and helps us assess the severity of the injury and create a plan for safe return to play.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high school athletes take longer to heal from a concussion compared with college and pro athletes; they also experience greater severity of symptoms. And sending a player back on the field before healing is complete can be detrimental, if not deadly.
“A second hit to a concussed head can be a life changing blow, affecting speech, memory and motor skills. It’s similar to suffering a devastating stroke,” Dr. Seifert said.
Part of ensuring players get appropriate care if they become injured includes properly educating coaches, athletic trainers and parents about concussions. Expanded concussion education will include user friendly symptom charts, posters and quick-reference pocket cards at all JCPS middle and high schools.
Support a healthy community
Because Norton Healthcare is not-for-profit, it relies on the generosity of the community to support health and wellness programs. The Norton Healthcare Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Norton Healthcare and raises funds to ensure Norton Healthcare hospitals stay up-to-date on the latest advances and technology as well as funds important health and wellness services for patients. If you’d like to help make a difference in the health of our community, visit NortonHealthcareFoundation.com.