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SALT LAKE CITY — Getting their "bell rung" doesn't begin to describe the devastating effects concussions can have on young athletes.
Skyline High senior Jack Larsen suffered three concussions in six months, and now his football career has been cut short.
"I was super stressed," said Jack, who didn't know if he'd ever be back to school, let alone at football practice, after his injuries. A year ago, Jack was living his high school football dream.
"Just a remarkable kid," said Skyline football coach Steve Marlowe. "Lot of enthusiasm; played corner for us." On the gridiron, Jack was known for his toughness.
"He doesn't care if they're twice his size, he'll go pop 'em," said Skyline football captain Chris Williams. "He'll go hit 'em."
It was one of those hits that led to Jack's third concussion. The first two happened playing rugby.
"As a dad, naive as I was in my thinking, I was thinking he played well, he played hard, he got hit," said Todd Larsen, Jack's father. "That's just part of the deal."
But within days of that last collision, the typically happy-go-lucky honor roll student said his thoughts just didn't seem to make sense.
"They tend to have symptoms that are more severe and last longer," Hansen said, noting everyone is different when it comes to head injuries.
"My whole mental deal was just messed up," Jack said.
Jack didn't even want to be around his friends anymore, and he had trouble focusing on his teachers. It was like a heavy fog had descended on his brain. Instead of looking forward to upcoming games, he was battling anxiety, panic attacks, depression and headaches.
By March, he had no choice but to withdraw from school. "That's when we had scans done, and found he'd had a brain injury," Todd said.
For Jack's parents, Todd and Mindy, some days felt helpless.
The teen has tried everything from homeopathic remedies to hyperbaric treatments to help his recovery. It took about nine months, he says, but the fog, has faded. He's since rejoined his team as a coach.
"I'm excited to be back to get school under my belt, and be out here with the guys," Jack said.
Williams, Jack's close friend and Skyline captain, said Jack's experience has opened his team's eyes to the dangers of concussions. He said Coach Marlowe has discussed the issue with his players, making sure their helmets are as safe as possible — although no helmets keep players completely safe from harm.
"I just spent $6,000 on 20 brand-new helmets," said Marlowe, adding he seeks out the best technology possible. "They're about $300 apiece."
- A concussion is a brain injury.
- All concussions are serious.
- Most concussions occur without loss of consciousness.
- Concussions can occur in any sport or recreation activity.
- Recognition and proper response to concussions when they first occur can help prevent further injury or even death.
To help safeguard football players' heads, used helmets must be re-recertified every two years. Making sure they fit correctly is half the battle.
Jack's story is an important reminder that concussions can have devastating effects.
When asked what players can do to stay safe, Dr. Hansen said: "Not have the tough-guy attitude with concussions: 'Oh, you can fight through, not a big deal. Tough it out.'"
Said Mindy, Jack's mom, "Don't rush your kids into getting back out to play. It's not worth risking the rest of their life."
Hansen said the vast majority of concussions heal within a month with proper care from a doctor.