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Deadly Hits

In 2006, a 13-year-old football player suffered a life-changing brain injury. His family has been fighting to make youth sports safer ever since.

Before You Read: Check out our Background Builder slideshow

 

Courtesy of the Lystedt family 

    October 12, 2006, was cool and clear in Seattle, Washington. It was a perfect day for football. Zackery Lystedt, 13, was a star player on his Tahoma Junior High team. He’d made two big tackles that afternoon. Tahoma was in the lead.

    Late in the game’s first half, Zack tackled a runner rushing toward the end zone. Both boys fell to the ground. Zack’s head smacked against the ground.

    The other boy quickly got up.

    Zack did not.

    Zack lay on his back, grabbing his head. He writhed in pain. His coach ran to him. Seconds ticked by. 

    The crowd remained silent.

    Finally, Zack sat up. People cheered as he walked slowly off the field. Zack sat down to rest. The game went on.

    But something was happening inside Zack’s head. Zack had a concussion, a kind of brain injury. When his head hit the ground, his brain shook violently against the inside of his skull. Sitting on the bench, Zack seemed OK. But his brain had been badly injured.

    October 12, 2006, was cool and clear in Seattle, Washington. It was a great day for football. Zackery Lystedt was 13. He was a star player on his Tahoma Junior High team. He’d made two big tackles that afternoon. Tahoma was in the lead. 

    In the game’s first half, Zack tackled a runner rushing toward the end zone. Both boys fell down. Zack’s head smacked against the ground.

    The other boy got up. Zack did not.

    Zack lay on his back, holding his head. He writhed in pain. His coach ran to him. Seconds ticked by. The crowd was silent.

    Finally, Zack sat up. People cheered as he walked off the field. Zack sat down to rest. The game went on.

    But something was happening inside Zack’s head. When his head hit the ground, his brain had shaken violently against the inside of his skull. Zack looked OK. But he had a concussion. That’s a kind of brain injury.

    October 12, 2006, was cool and clear in Seattle, Washington. It was a perfect day for football. Zackery Lystedt, 13, was a star player on his Tahoma Junior High team. He’d made two big tackles that afternoon. Tahoma was in the lead.

    Late in the game’s first half, Zack tackled a runner rushing toward the end zone. Both boys fell down, and Zack’s head smacked against the ground.

    The other boy quickly got up.

    Zack did not.

    Lying on his back, Zack clutched his head and writhed in pain. His coach ran over to him. Seconds ticked by.

    The crowd remained silent.

    Zack finally sat up, and people cheered as he walked slowly off the field. The game went on while Zack sat and rested.

    But something was happening inside Zack’s head. Zack had a concussion, a type of brain injury. When his head hit the ground, his brain shook violently against the inside of his skull. Sitting on the bench, Zack appeared unharmed—but his brain had been badly injured.


Playing Through Pain 

    Today, some 2.8 million kids in the U.S. play football. But over the past 16 years, the sport has come under scrutiny. Why? There have been a large number of brain injuries among players of all ages.

    Until recently, knocks to the head were just part of the game. Athletes played through the pain. Many returned to the field with blurred vision. Toughing it out was seen as a sign of strength. 

    Zack had grown up watching football stars run into each other with great force. Clips of the hardest hits of the week were played on TV. 

    So it’s easy to see why Zack decided his team needed him. Less than 15 minutes after his injury, Zack returned to the game. He didn’t know he was risking brain damage or even death.

    Today, some 2.8 million kids in the U.S. play football. But over the past 16 years, the sport has come under scrutiny. Why? Many players have gotten brain injuries.

    Until recently, knocks to the head were just part of the game. Athletes played through the pain. Many returned to the field with blurred vision. That was seen as a sign of strength.

    Zack had grown up watching football stars run into each other—hard. Clips of the hardest hits of the week were played on TV.

    Zack decided his team needed him. He wanted to be tough. Less than 15 minutes after his injury, he returned to the game. He didn’t know he was risking brain damage or even death.

    Today, some 2.8 million kids in the United States play football. But over the past 16 years, the sport has come under scrutiny because there have been a large number of brain injuries among players of all ages.

    Until recently, knocks to the head were regarded as just part of the game. Athletes played through the pain. Many returned to the field with blurred vision. Toughing it out was considered a sign of strength.

    Zack had grown up watching football stars run into each other with incredible force. Clips of the hardest hits of the week were played on television.

    So it’s easy to understand why Zack decided his team needed him. Less than 15 minutes after his injury, Zack returned to the game. He never imagined that he could be risking brain damage or even death.

Courtesy of the Lystedt family 

Football Family  
This photo shows Zack and his parents at a Seattle Seahawks game when he was in high school. The family has devoted their lives to teaching others about the dangers of concussions.

Going Back In 

    A concussion is an invisible injury. It leaves no marks on the outside of the body. At the time, Zack’s coaches weren’t trained to spot a concussion’s common signs (see infographic below). So they did what many coaches might have done: They sent their star player back in.

    Zack played like a champion through the second half of the game. Meanwhile, each small hit was making his injury worse.

    In the game’s final seconds, Zack tackled the other team’s running back. It was a game-winning play for Zack’s team. But there would be no celebration. Barely a minute later, Zack fell down on the ground. His brain was bleeding and swelling. It pushed against his skull. The pain was terrible. He was taken to a hospital. Doctors rushed to save his life. 

    By that night, Zack was in a coma. It would be three months before he opened his eyes. It would be nine months before he could speak. Zack would need care for the rest of his life.

    A concussion is an invisible injury. It leaves no marks on the outside of the body. At the time, Zack’s coaches weren’t trained to spot a concussion’s common signs (see infographic below). So they did what many coaches might have done. They sent their star player back in.

    Zack played like a champ. But each small hit made his injury worse.

    In the game’s final seconds, Zack tackled the other team’s running back. Zack’s team won the game. But there was no celebration. Barely a minute later, Zack fell down. His brain was bleeding and swelling. It pushed against his skull. The pain was terrible. He was taken to a hospital. Doctors rushed to save his life.

    By that night, Zack was in a coma. It would be three months before he opened his eyes. It would be nine months before he could speak. Zack would need care for the rest of his life.

    A concussion is an invisible injury. It leaves no marks on the outside of the body. At the time, Zack’s coaches weren’t trained to identify a concussion’s common signs (see infographic below), so they did what many coaches might have done: sent their star player back into the game.

    Zack played like a champion through the second half of the game—but each small hit was making his injury worse.

    In the game’s final seconds, Zack tackled the other team’s running back. It was a game-winning play for Zack’s team, but there would be no celebration. Barely a minute later, Zack collapsed onto the ground. His brain was bleeding and swelling, causing terrible pain as it pushed against his skull. He was taken to a hospital, where doctors rushed to save his life.

    By that night, Zack was in a coma. It would be three months before he opened his eyes, and it would be nine months before he could speak. Zack would need care for the rest of his life.

What is a Concussion? 

A hit to the head is the most common cause of a concussion. Here’s what it does to the brain.

Diagram Illustration by Kate Francis

1- A sudden bump to the head jolts the head in one direction.


2- The force slams the brain against the inside of the skull. Then the brain bounces back in the other direction.


3- Some hits also twist and stretch the brain as it bounces around.


4- Serious concussions can make the brain swell. This puts pressure on the brain stem. (The brain stem controls things like breathing and swallowing.)

1- A sudden bump to the head jolts the head in one direction.


2- The force slams the brain against the inside of the skull. Then the brain bounces back in the other direction.


3- Some hits also twist and stretch the brain as it bounces around.


4- Serious concussions can make the brain swell. This puts pressure on the brain stem. (The brain stem controls things like breathing and swallowing.)

1- A sudden bump to the head jolts the head in one direction.


2- The force slams the brain against the inside of the skull. Then the brain bounces back in the other direction.


3- Some hits also twist and stretch the brain as it bounces around.


4- Serious concussions can make the brain swell. This puts pressure on the brain stem. (The brain stem controls things like breathing and swallowing.)

SOURCEs: The American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and prevention



Small Hits, Big Problems

    It’s shocking to think that a middle school football game ended with a player in a coma. Very few young athletes suffer brain injuries as bad as Zack’s. But concussions are common. About 10 percent of middle school boys who play football experience concussions during games.

    Most people who get concussions will recover. The injury just needs to be treated. If it’s ignored, the concussion can get worse. It can cause constant headaches, memory problems, and other issues.     

    In Zack’s case, it was not the initial concussion that caused his brain to bleed and swell. It was the small hits to his head that happened after he went back into the game. 

    If Zack had stayed off the field, he would likely have been OK.

    Young athletes rarely get brain injuries as bad as Zack’s. But concussions are common. About 1 in 10 middle school boys who play football get concussions during games.

    Most people who get concussions will recover. The injury just needs to be treated. If it’s ignored, the concussion can get worse. It can cause constant headaches, memory problems, and more.

    It was not the initial concussion that caused Zack’s brain to bleed and swell. It was the small hits to his head that happened after he went back into the game.

    If Zack had stayed off the field, he would likely have been OK.

    It’s shocking to realize that a middle school football game ended with a player in a coma. Very few young athletes suffer brain injuries as serious as Zack’s, but concussions are not uncommon. Approximately 10 percent of middle school boys who play football experience concussions during games.

    Most people who get concussions will recover—as long as the injury is treated. If it’s ignored, the concussion can get worse. It can cause constant headaches, memory problems, and other issues.

    In Zack’s case, it wasn’t the initial concussion that caused his brain to bleed and swell. It was the small hits to his head that happened after he went back into the game.

    If Zack had stayed off the field, he would likely have been OK.

What If?

    The words what if  haunted Zack’s parents. What if Zack and his coach had understood the dangers of concussions? What if there had been a rule that kept injured players off the field?

    The Lystedts decided they wanted to help other young athletes. They worked with lawmakers and doctors to pass the Lystedt Law in Washington in 2009. Under this law, young athletes who might have a concussion are not allowed to return to play until a doctor says it’s OK. There are now similar laws in all 50 states.

    The National Football League (NFL) has also passed tougher rules about concussions. Today, players who get a hit to the head are looked at by a doctor right away.

    The words what if haunted Zack’s parents. What if Zack and his coach had known more about concussions? What if there had been a rule that kept injured players off the field?

    The Lystedts wanted to help other young athletes. They worked with lawmakers and doctors to pass the Lystedt Law in Washington in 2009. Under this law, young athletes who might have a concussion are not allowed to return to play until a doctor says it’s OK. There are now similar laws in all 50 states.

    The National Football League (NFL) has made tougher rules about concussions too. Today, players who get a hit to the head are seen by a doctor right away.

    The words what if  haunted Zack’s parents. What if Zack and his coach had understood the dangers of concussions? What if there had been a rule that kept injured players off the field?

    The Lystedts wanted to help protect other young athletes, so they worked with lawmakers and doctors to pass the Lystedt Law in Washington in 2009. Under this law, young athletes who might have a concussion aren’t allowed to return to play without a doctor’s approval. There are now similar laws in all 50 states.

    The National Football League (NFL) has also passed tougher rules about concussions. Today, players who get a hit to the head are examined by a doctor.

What to Know About Concussions

Each year, as many as 1.9 million children under 18 experience a concussion while playing sports. These sports have the highest concussion rates: 

Enigma/Alamy Stock Photo (Soccer); Shutterstock.com (Hockey, Background)

A) GIRLS

  1. Soccer
  2.  Lacrosse
  3.  Field Hockey


B) BOYS

  1. Football
  2. Lacrosse
  3. Ice Hockey


Stay Safe 
Tell an adult and stop playing right away if you notice any of these common signs: •Headache •Confusion •Dizziness •Nausea or throwing up •Blurry vision •Bothered by light or noise 

A) GIRLS

  1. Soccer
  2.  Lacrosse
  3.  Field Hockey


B) BOYS

  1. Football
  2. Lacrosse
  3. Ice Hockey


Stay Safe 
Tell an adult and stop playing right away if you notice any of these common signs: •Headache •Confusion •Dizziness •Nausea or throwing up •Blurry vision •Bothered by light or noise 

A) GIRLS

  1. Soccer
  2.  Lacrosse
  3.  Field Hockey


B) BOYS

  1. Football
  2. Lacrosse
  3. Ice Hockey


Stay Safe 
Tell an adult and stop playing right away if you notice any of these common signs: •Headache •Confusion •Dizziness •Nausea or throwing up •Blurry vision •Bothered by light or noise 

The Road to Recovery

Elaine Thompson/AP Images

Zack's Journey 
In high school, Zack did 30 to 40 hours of physical therapy every week. This therapy helped make him stronger. Now, he can walk with a cane. 

    It’s been 16 years since Zack’s injury. His recovery has been long and difficult. Zack spent most of high school in a wheelchair. Today, Zack can walk with the help of a cane.

    Zack and his family are still fighting for safety in youth sports. Zack also travels around the country spreading the word about the dangers of concussions. Everywhere he goes, his message is the same. 

    No game is more important than your life. 

    Zack was injured 16 years ago. His recovery has been slow. He used a wheelchair in high school. He now walks with a cane.

    The Lystedts are still fighting for safety in youth sports. Zack also travels around the U.S. spreading the word about concussions. His message is clear.

    No game matters more than your life. 

    It’s been 16 years since Zack’s injury. His recovery has been very slow and difficult. Zack spent most of high school in a wheelchair. Today, he can walk with the help of a cane.

    Zack and his family are still fighting for safety in youth sports. Zack also travels around the country spreading awareness about the dangers of concussions. Everywhere he goes, his message is the same.

    No game is more important than your life. 

For more information and resources, visit www.cdc.gov/headsup.

ACTIVITY: 
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You’ve just read “Deadly Hits.” Now do this activity to help you better understand the article.

Tip: Text evidence means details in a story that support an answer or show that it is true.

What to do: Use text evidence—or details from the article—to answer the questions below. We did the first one for you.

You’ve just read “Deadly Hits.” Now do this activity to help you better understand the article.

Tip: Text evidence means details in a story that support an answer or show that it is true.

What to do: Use text evidence—or details from the article—to answer the questions below. We did the first one for you.