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By Scott Darling

Recent tragedies have occurred in both high school and collegiate sports that underscore the ongoing and absolutely essential importance of proper head injury management and concussion evaluation.

As concussion management physicians, we are entrusted to care for and protect our valuable athletes. Unfortunately, even during routine practice or game play, the unthinkable can happen, as it did this month to a high school football player in Brocton.

Damon W. Janes, a running back for the Westfield/Brocton football team, lost consciousness after a helmet-to-helmet hit during a game. He died a few days later in Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. He was 16.

Statistics show that there were 25 high school athletic fatalities between 2003 and 2012. Unfortunately, these injuries are not uncommon but certainly they can be minimized with a comprehensive concussion team on the sidelines and readily available. Members of this team should include physicians, certified athletic trainers, coaches and physical therapists.

Concussions and head injuries have been gaining steam as a hot-button issue on all levels of sports, from high school teams to the professional levels. Players in the NFL, for example, are not allowed to return to play the same day of a concussion.

Awareness of concussion symptoms is essential for both coaches and parents alike. Those symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, forgetfulness, sensitivity to light or sound, loss of consciousness and feeling slowed down or foggy. An athlete should never be allowed to return to play during the same game if any concussion symptoms are even suspected.

We at UBMD Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine are the team physicians for numerous local professional, collegiate and high school teams. Our expert physicians have access to a state-of-the-art concussion evaluation and rehabilitation clinic at the Summit Healthplex. This is in conjunction with the University at Buffalo concussion clinic and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.

Through these clinics, neuropsychological and biomechanical testing are employed to evaluate athletes and return them to sport as quickly and safely as possible.

Spreading the word on concussion symptoms and management to coaches, parents and athletes is essential to averting tragedies such as the one that occurred in Brocton. Sports and athletics will always be an enjoyable part of our culture, yet mindfulness of concussion symptoms and evaluation by physicians trained in these areas are essential. We must remember: When in doubt, sit them out.

Scott Darling, M.D., is a concussion specialist in primary care sports medicine at UBMD Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Niagara Falls.