Kolby Butcher had a lot to look forward to. The Del Oro High School junior was doing well in school and excelling in both football and rugby. Then Butcher began experiencing a host of unexplained and frightening symptoms. He had persistent headaches and frequent mood swings. He was struggling to concentrate in class.
“I had like 95 in all of my classes,” Butcher said. “And then, from that point on, just F’s on everything. All my math tests just failed. Everything went downhill.”
Finally, doctors diagnosed his problem. Butcher had suffered not one but several concussions while playing sports. He was just the latest statistic in what’s being seen as a serious and growing medical problem.
“Sidelined: Concussions in Sports,” produced by KVIE Public Television, features both local high school athletes and former NFL players who have suffered concussions or sports injuries. The half-hour program premieres Wednesday at 7 p.m. on KVIE Public Television (ch. 6, check local listings) and will re-air Dec. 23 at 6 p.m.
In “Sidelined,” California lawmakers and medical experts discuss what they are doing to help raise awareness in hopes of keeping athletes safe on and off the field. Their efforts are helping California develop landmark legislation and pioneer safety measures, which they hope become a national trend.
For Butcher, the diagnosis meant he was permanently sidelined from any sports. Even now, he struggles with grades and maintaining his GPA. Butcher said if an athlete thinks he has been concussed, he shouldn’t hesitate to get help.
“Help yourself, really. … People will tell you that you’re fine … but you’re the only one that knows how you feel,” he said. “You’re your own advocate.”
The program also follows Davis Senior High School cheerleader Summer Yeo and St. Francis High School retired soccer player Jessica Cosca, both of whom have been concussed.
Former San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle George Visger and Dallas Cowboys’ Doug Cosbie share their life experiences after football. Visger’s NFL career ended in 1981 during the NFC Championship game after he suffered a concussion. Visger claims that hit was made by Dallas Cowboys player Doug Cosbie. Since that game, Visger has undergone nine brain surgeries. He still struggles with his memory. Visger uses notebooks to log everything he has been doing for the past 28 years. The former NFL players use their voice and personal stories to help educate people on sports-induced concussions.
“They’re now teaming up together and helping others,” said producer Kelly Peterson.
The program provides a glimpse into the Sacramento Valley Concussion Care Consortium, a grassroots effort spearheaded by medical experts working together to address concussions. Doctors with Kaiser Permanente, UC Davis Health System, Sutter Health, and Mercy/Dignity Health make up the consortium, along with business leaders.
“A lot of these doctors volunteer their time to go out to these games on the weekend, at night or evenings,” Peterson said. “They spend many hours volunteering their time to make sure athletes are safe. It’s nice to see them getting some recognition, to see how much they’re doing to help our community.”
The documentary features John Breckenridge and Mike Lamb of Wells Fargo Student Insurance Division. They represent a partnership between the Sacramento Valley Concussion Care Consortium and the Wells Fargo Play it Safe Concussion Care program, which offers insurance options for school districts to provide for their players.
California Assembly member Mary Hayashi also talks about two bills she authored, AB 25 and 1451. AB 25 is one of the toughest return-to-play laws in the nation. It requires student athletes who suffer from a concussion to get written approval from a doctor or health care professional before returning to the game.
AB 1451 requires high school coaches to get first aid training in concussions and goes into effect in January 2013.
“So much has changed over the last five, 10 years with concussions … What’s happening on and off the field. We wanted to revisit and see what’s being done because of all the changes being made,” said Peterson. “The goal is not for this program to scare or push people away. They’re all great games, and we hope this program educates and brings awareness about the severity of concussion.”