In the stories about young athletes who play on through injuries, it's usually the coach or the persistent parent pushing that kid to tough it out. Sometimes, Reesman says, physicians find themselves dealing with entire families of athletes -- which only makes the pressure worse. "The expectation is that sometimes you get injured, but that you're going to play on and be okay," she says. "It's not uncommon for us to hear parents say, 'Well, I had a few concussions in my day as well.'"
But as schools and parents grow increasingly educated about the dangers of sports-related injuries and concussions, many have grown wary of that "buck up" attitude.
Sometimes, however, the person pushing hardest to get a young athlete back on the field isn't a parent or a coach, but the athlete himself. After all, for a kid who eats, sleeps, and breathes football -- or soccer, or basketball, or lacrosse -- their entire way of life, not to mention college scholarships and approval of friends and family, may be on the line. "For these kids, sports really are their lives," Reesman says. "This is a huge part of who they are."
Aidan Fielding is no exception.
An honors student at the prestigious Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C., Aidan was named co-captain of his freshman soccer team during the 2010-11 school year. But his love of sports isn't limited to the soccer field. Whenever the season ends, Aidan looks for any opportunity to keep on playing and competing. And so, in spring 2011, he joined Gonzaga's rugby team. It wasn't soccer, but it was fun, an excuse to play, and a way to spend time with other athletes.
By any definition, rugby is a rough and tumble sport. But compared to its equally high-contact cousin, football, it flies somewhat under the radar. Yet even football -- considered by some the most dangerous of sports -- requires its players to wear helmets, pads, and face masks. Rugby players, on the other hand, wear no protective gear at all -- not even helmets -- despite the sport's infamously hard hits and tackles.
For Aidan, the hardest hit came during a tournament on April 30, 2011, when he endured a tackle that would make even NFL players shudder. The details are sketchy, and Aidan doesn't remember much. Witnesses recalled someone tackling Aidan, and in the melee, he either landed on his head or his head was stepped on -- no one's sure. As the pile of players dispersed, Aidan just lay there, unconscious. Then, he suddenly had a violent seizure.
Paramedics came and stabilized him, but he wasn't fully responsive until hours later, after he'd been airlifted to a nearby pediatric intensive care unit. When he finally did wake up, someone asked if he knew who he was. He told them he was professional tennis player Andy Roddick.
By that evening, however, Aidan was conscious and lucid. But he also had bloodshot eyes and was dizzy and "out of it" -- the result of a significant concussion. Two days later, his doctors sent him home with a referral to Dr. Reesman and neurologist Dr. Lam at the Neurorehabilitation Concussion Clinic.