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Head injury bill gets hearing

By Marjorie Cortez | Posted - Jan. 25, 2011 at 5:58 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Amateur athletes under 18 who sustain head injuries during play or practice would need medical clearance to return to play under legislation considered by a committee of the Utah Legislature on Tuesday.

HB204, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, requires amateur sports organizations to adopt and enforce a concussion and head injury policy that requires amateur athletes to be removed from a sporting event when a child is suspected of sustaining a head injury or concussion. To return to play, the athlete would be required to obtain medical clearance from a health care provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussion.

The legislation would apply to private and public schools, club sports and camps.

What we're trying to do is protect athletes.

–Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield

"What we're trying to do is protect athletes," said Ray, explaining that youth are especially vulnerable to traumatic brain injuries.

If private sports organizations need language for their rules, the Utah High School Activities Association's rules could be a model, Ray said, during a hearing of the House Health and Human Services Standing Committee.

The UHSAA's policy on head injuries and return-to-play procedure was required by the National Federation of State High School Associations, the rule-writing agency for high school sports nationwide.

The UHSAA, the federal Centers for Disease Control and the National Athletic Trainers Association have online education materials available free of charge.

"It does take a little bit of their time but again, we have to look out for the best interests of the child," said Ray, who coaches junior high athletics and whose own children compete in sports.

Lisa Walker, president of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Trainers Association, said the issue has been at the forefront of professional and collegiate sport the last few years. Amateur athletes need a similar level of protection, she said.

Young athletes are particularly vulnerable to second-impact syndrome — rapid and catastrophic swelling of the brain when sustaining a second concussion before the brain has adequately healed from an initial concussion, Walker said.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill Tuesday but physical therapists and nurse practitioners said they want to be among that health care providers that can give medical clearances for athletes. As drafted, medical clearance can be provided by medical and osteopathic physicians, physician assistants and athletic trainers.

"For me, it's not about who does what. It's about the safety of the athletes," Ray said, noting he would consider amendments to the bill.

The committee will resume deliberations on the bill Wednesday afternoon.


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