As of this upcoming August, kids will return to actual, in-person school, complete with sports teams. That’s a great thing because kids missed out on a year of physical activity and challenges; however, it also means a primer on sports injuries is necessary — including the potential for traumatic brain injuries.
Brain injuries, usually concussions, are one of the most commonly reported injuries in kids and teens who participate in sports. Usually, a concussion results from a blow or motion to the head or body that causes the brain to move rapidly around inside the skull. Most are mild (although cumulative mild concussions can lead to long-term damage), but some are severe, leading to lifetime limitations and even death.
Since 2009, when the Lystedt Law went into effect in Washington state, all 50 states now feature what’s known as “Return to Play” laws. These laws usually state that, if a child or teen receives a head injury, they are not allowed to return to play until cleared by a medical professional. The policy is: “When in doubt, sit them out.”
These laws have undoubtedly saved thousands of lives. And it’s all due to one boy, Zackery Lystedt, who suffered a terrible injury in 2006.
The Tragic Lystedt Law Origin Story
Zackery Lystedt was a 14-year-old running back in 2006 when he was injured during a football game. After being briefly on the bench, he returned to the game, and suffered yet another injury. Called second-impact syndrome, Zackery suffered a double concussion; he collapsed and ended up with a catastrophic brain injury.
“He was on life support for seven days; he couldn’t speak for nine months; after 13 months, he could move his left arm a little; it took two years to get rid of the feeding tube and four years before he could move his right leg purposefully,” father Victor Lystedt told Seattle Magazine.
Zackery was lucky to survive, but he still undergoes therapy for his injuries every day. His recovery, while miraculous, was tough, endless, and terribly expensive. He and his family decided to pursue a policy change in Washington State, to ensure that what happened to Zack would never happen to another child.
The Brain Injury Alliance of Washington (BIAWA) did a recent podcast with the Lystedt family detailing their injury recovery journey. Zack, now a well-spoken young man in his 20s, speaks to the grit and determination necessary to survive brain trauma. He credits his parents with turning tragedy into positive change, and giving him the drive to keep going.
“I’m so thankful to have parents that do that, you know, ’cause not everyone’s parents do that for them and stay on their ass and push them and motivate them. And sometimes that motivation isn’t always positive and it’s not always positive motivation. Sometimes it’s been negative, but it’s all for the greater good of me. And so I’m thankful for that. And God plays a huge part in all, everything encompassing that,” Zackery said.
Lystedt Law – Toughest of the “Return to Play” Laws
The Lystedt Law, enacted in 2009, is fairly simple:
- Youth athletes who are suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury must be removed from play. “When in doubt, sit them out.”
- Working together, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) and local school districts will develop policies and distribute information to educate coaches, players and parents about the risks and nature of concussion. This information must specifically include the dangers associated with returning to practice or competition following a head injury or concussion.
- All student athletes and their parents/guardians must read and sign an information sheet about concussion and head injury before the young athlete can begin to play. This must be done at the beginning of each sport season.
- Young athletes who have been removed from play must receive written medical clearance prior to returning to play from a licensed healthcare provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussion.
- Private, nonprofit sports organizations that wish to use play fields owned by the public must also follow the provisions set by this law.
The law had an immediate effect. According to the Journal of Athletic Training, which studied the rate of reported concussions after the law passed, awareness underwent a sea change.
“After the Lystedt concussion law in Washington State was passed, the number of concussions documented in high schools in the Seattle public school district more than doubled… Family and mandatory coach education, the presence of athletic trainers on the field, and a restrictive return-to-sports policy might have influenced the increase in concussion documentation,” the study concluded.
BIAWA executive director Deborah Crawley credits the Lystedt family for completely changing the injury protocols for youth sports. “It was that legislation, the Zachary Lystedt Law, that really changed how we as a nation both diagnose, treat and work to prevent concussions, keeping our kids safe. Playing the sports they love came from the Zachary Lystedt law,” Crawley commented on the podcast.
Return to Play Laws for Your State
While all 50 states now have Return to Play laws on the books (a very rapid political and legislative turnaround), they do vary. The Lystedt Law is the gold standard, and some states still allow a next-day return to play (rather than a 24-hour wait). Visit a site like Shape America for a look at how your state interprets Return to Play.