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Inside the CFL: More education on concussions necessary

By Ted Michaels, CFL Columnist

Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - Concussions.

It's an issue that unites all levels of football.

Recently, the NFL announced a tentative $765 million settlement agreement with about 18,000 retired players over concussion-related brain injuries, thereby agreeing to compensate victims, pay for medical exams and underwrite research.

On May 3, 2011, a new campaign was launched in Canada with the Canadian Football League taking a leadership role. In an effort to promote concussion awareness, prevention, management and research, simple-to-follow "concussion flyers" and posters were made for hundreds of thousands of athletes and coaches across the country.

The flyers and posters spelled out how to recognize the symptoms of a a concussion and stress the importance of not rushing an athlete with any symptoms back into action.

The concussion flyers and posters were distributed on paper and electronically to more than 100,000 kids playing minor football, 3,200 high schools with 750,000 athletes playing football and other sports, and 52 universities with 2,000 football players and 8,500 other student-athletes.

It's somewhat ironic that four months after the campaign was launched, a serious injury on the football field raises the question, was anyone paying attention?

A former university football player is now suing Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, for a severe head injury that has forced him to relearn to walk.

On Sept. 10, 2011, Kevin Kwasny, who is now 23, was taken to a hospital during halftime in a Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) football game between the Bishop's University Gaiters and the Concordia Stingers. Kwasny suffered bleeding on the brain and for a time was in critical condition.

In a multi-million dollar lawsuit, Kwasny, a former defensive end, is alleging his coaches kept him in the game although he was dizzy from a hit.

"He complained about his head being sore and that he got hit very hard ... and they just told him to get back in there a couple of plays later and keep on going," Kwasny's father, Greg, said last week in an interview with the Canadian Press.

Two years later, Kwasny is still undergoing therapy at a rehabilitation center in Selkirk, Manitoba, north of his family's home in Winnipeg. He continues to work to regain his mobility and strength.

When asked about his son's condition, Greg Kwasny said, "He lost his whole right side, as if someone drew a line down him."

"He's got some of it back, his fingers and his arms moving, and his leg is a little bit moving but not fully."

Kwasny's statement of claim noted the university has not paid for extensive medical costs, and, as such, Kwasny is asking for $7.5 million in the lawsuit.

It must be pointed out the allegations in the statement of claim have not been proven in court. Bishop's has not yet filed a statement of defense and no court date has been set to hear the lawsuit.

Kwasny's lawsuit alleges he sustained a hit to the head during the first half of the game, then left the field.

He told his coaches he was dizzy, had blurred vision and felt like he had had "his bell rung." Shortly afterward, the lawsuit claims, he was told to get back on the field, where he was hit again. By halftime, Kwasny's condition had deteriorated, and he was later taken to hospital.

The statement of claim adds Bishop's coaches and trainers "failed to assess Kevin's symptoms for signs and/or symptoms of a concussion or head injury as required or at all."

A statement, from Dr. Jackie Bailey, Bishop's dean of student affairs, said, "The entire university community continues to have empathy and compassion for Kevin and his family. Bishop's has thoroughly reviewed the events of the day and the processes that were involved.

"From the moment the sports medicine team and coaching staff became aware of a potential injury, they took all necessary precautions to ensure Kevin received immediate medical care."

The lawsuit may send shudders through CIS football.

"Yes, it sets off red flags ...," said McMaster Marauders head coach Stefan Ptaszek. "We're constantly finding ways to protect our athletes, and make a great game safe and enjoyable for everyone. We invest tons in sports medicine and impact testing for concussions. The protocol right now has almost no gray area. It's pretty black and white in how you get a kid from a headache to returning play as safely and conservatively as possible. It's an unfortunate circumstance. My heart goes out to the kid and his family. It's a horrendous situation."

Ptaszek said, at McMaster, the protocol is clear: "If there's any doubt at all (about a possible concussion), they're done playing football. When a student- athlete has any concussion-like symptoms, lost time or blurry vision, whether there's been a mechanism or not - ie: a hit - you get him out.

"He does not return to play until the physiotherapist, the head athletic therapist and, if necessary, the team doctor, all clear him to play, and that's very unlikely in the middle of competition. Post-competition, impact testing and all kinds of steps must happen before you're ready to get into contact again. Usually, it's symptom-free before we even let you get you heart rate up and exercise. Then, it's couple of days of riding the bike and light jogging, then light contact.

"The whole protocol is seven days, so if you have what looks like a concussion, you have to be through all of the steps to be in the next game."

Despite the severity of the Kwasny situation, everyone involved with football hopes it's an isolated incident.

And one can only hope it sends a clear message.

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML. Comments? Criticism? Applause?

09/17 09:18:24 ET

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