CDC unveils guidelines for care of young people with concussions

Standing on the field at Greater Atlanta Christian School, with his mom, trainer and concussion specialist, senior Thomas Cooksey remembers the hit that sidelined him out here 2 years ago, during football practice.

"I just kind of got blindsided and hit the ground," Cooksey says.  "Pretty much everything is a blur after that."

As Cooksey's head hit the field, the blow jarred his brain, triggering a concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury.

"I got up and I just didn't feel right," he says.

Chad Dybdahl, GAC's head athletic trainer, pulled Thomas out of practice, to assess his injury.

It's something Dybdahl does even when players insist they're fine, which happens pretty often.

"It's very tough," Dybdahl says. "You know your athletes.  They're competitors.  They want to be out there for their teammates. But it's not a laughing matter, you've got to make sure that they are okay."

To make sure Thomas' brain was okay, he was sent to Dr. Adam Schunk, a clinical neuropsychologist at the Concussion Institute at Gwinnett Medical Center.

"One of the challenges of treating a concussion is that every patient is different, and every injury is different," Dr. Schunk says.  "So there will never be a guideline that covers all."

Thomas took a week off from school and several weeks off from football.

Under the old guidelines, Schunk says, experts used to recommend prolong rest, not just from athletics, but school and anything that would challenge the brain. But Dr. Schunk says they're learning too much rest after a mild TBI may actually complicate and prolong healing.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expert panel recommends health care providers use "age-appropriate" symptom scales to diagnose mild traumatic brain injury in children.

The guidelines discourage the routine use of imaging to diagnose young patients, saying it exposes them to unnecessary radiation. And, health care providers are advised to encourage young TBI patients to wait no more than two or three days before getting back to their non-sports activities.

"So, the new gold standard is after a couple of days of resting, you want to gradually transition back to normal activity," Dr. Schunk says. "And that actually can help the brain heal and promote recovery."

Thomas Cooksey's mother Cindy Cooksey says she appreciates the whole body emphasis on her son's healing.

"Because they know putting a kid in a dark room without contact for days, that's not good for them either," Cooksey says.

All three of Cooksey's sons play football. Tyler, Thomas' older brother plays for Georgia Tech. 

Cooksey's husband played for Tech, too. Both Tyler and Thomas have suffered concussions.

Tyler collided with two other players during a high school game.

"To see your son and two other players lying out on the field and immobilized, that's very scary," she says.

But, Cindy Cooksey is convinced Thomas is in good hands, with people who take his brain health as seriously as she does.

"That's really the only way this mom can feel confident that my sons are safe out here," she says.