Heading off danger: Concussions and teens

Sterling, Va. (WUSA9) -- It's a hot July afternoon, just before a thunderstorm. The Bonnette family is in the living room next to a fan, discussing schedules. 17-year-old Giuliana Bonnette plays the right side position for the varsity volleyball team at Dominion High School in Sterling. She is now recovered from two concussions she suffered in the spring.

"It started out as just a really bad headache, and a little bit of confusion," Bonnette said.

These were Giuliana Bonnette's symptoms after her first concussion 6 months ago. Her head slammed against the ground during volleyball tryouts. It was first diagnosed as whiplash.

"And my second one, I had just been cleared from my first whiplash and mild concussion and 15 minutes into my first practice I got hit in the back of the head with a volleyball during a serve," Bonnette said. That hit gave her what doctors called a moderate concussion.

Giuliana's mother, Nancy, noticed a difference right away.

"All we know is we got home and Giuliana was not the girl that we knew. She was moody, she was temperamental all the time," Nancy Bonnette said.

Giuliana was out for 9 weeks after the second hit. She was not only held from playing sports, but her class load was limited as well.

"It just took her so long to get back, and still now we see little bits and pieces. She's cognitively not 100 percent," Nancy Bonnette said.

N. Yasmine Homeyer, MD of Inova Loudoun Hospital stresses that concussions are best evaluated by everybody in the sporting community. For years concussions have been overlooked, and experts are still trying to define long term risks for young athletes.

"I know for my generation have your bell rung was almost a point of pride and something to be walked off," Homeyer said. "I don't think that it was recognized how serious concussions or mild traumatic brain injury could be."

Homeyer notes that concussions can have physical and cognitive symptoms. Physical symptoms include headaches, dizziness, light and noise sensitivity. Cognitive symptoms such as memory problems and mental fatigue. Along with emotional and sleep issues.

This serves as a warning for any parent whose child plays sports. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 300,000 children and teens will suffer a concussion while participating in athletics.

"It is common belief that you need to be knocked out to have concussions or a mild traumatic brain injury, and that's not the case. In the evaluation of a patient with head injury, if in doubt, sit them out," adds Homeyer.

As for the Bonnette family, this past spring was rather cloudy.

"For the first 3 or 4 school days, she made it through half of the school day and then the lights and the headaches took over and I had to pick her up," Nancy Bonnette said.

But they are glad that her school allowed time to heal.

"Don't be afraid because you think that they are going to take your sport away from you," Giuliana Bonnette said. "It's much more important to be healthy and to do well in school than it is to continue playing her sport."

If you are a parent of a young athlete or a coach, our partner, Inova Health System, is holding a free Youth Sports Safety and Health Day on Saturday, July 26 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Patriot Center on the campus of George Mason University. WUSA9's Sports Anchor Kristen Berset will be there moderating discussions about concussions and youth sports safety. There will also be activities for kids.


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