14% of Winona youth hockey league had severe concussions this season

Nera Andueza takes a concussion screening
Nera Andueza takes a concussion screening test at the Science Museum of Minnesota Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. Health Fair 11, in association with North Memorial Medical Center, is offering the free screenings during the state high school sports tournaments to encourage awareness of brain injuries in Minnesota. The tests are used as a baseline for possible future brain injuries.
Alex Kolyer for MPR

A small Winona, Minn. youth hockey league's use of baseline testing this season detected 14 percent of players had concussions severe enough to keep them off the ice.

The league used ImPACT testing on the players, a computerized test that measures memorization and reaction time. If a player is hurt during a game, they are retested and can't return to the ice until they are symptom-free and score at the same level from before the season.

A new state law last year requires coaches to be trained in recognizing the signs of a concussion, but there's also a movement to get more hockey leagues, and other sports, to do the baseline testing.

In the Winona league, all 63 players older than 10 were tested before the season.

Lee Trombetta, a surgeon at Winona Health, helped set up the testing with the hospital footing the bill. Trombetta is also the father of two players and an assistant coach for both of his sons' teams.

Everyone in the league also received extensive training, he said, so everyone knew how to look for concussion symptoms.

This year, the league had 12 concussions. Three were seen by physicians, but had no symptoms and tested at the same level as their baseline. They were able to return to the ice immediately. The other nine had decreases in their ImPACT testing and were kept out of play.

"I knew the number of kids identified with symptoms would increase just because of the increased awareness, but the thing that surprised me that 14 percent of kids took a head trauma strong enough to measurably decrease their cognitive test scores," Trombetta said. "To me, that's an absolutely staggering number."

Tombetta suspects that 14 percent would translate statewide, but adds he's not sure how to pay for such programs to be expanded to every league in the state - as well as with football and soccer leagues.

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