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More Than A Bell Rung!

How about some motivational thoughts for Our Wednesday Blog?

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I guess it’s better than someone just simply daring us with some attitude…right?

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So let’s get down to business. This blog is about football and brain injury. I immediately get serious!

Jeff Bezos once worked at a hedge fund and was growing increasingly frustrated because he was unable to match the returns of another investor, Bernie Madoff. (Of course we all now know that Madoff’s yearly investment returns were all fake)

Bezos reportedly confided in Ted Leonsis (owner of the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals) that his frustration caused him to quit his hedge fund job at D.E. Shaw. He then started a little company called Amazon. The cause and effect.

I compare a brain injury to cause and effect. You can tell if a person has a broken arm because you can physically see their cast. There is no cast for the brain. So, it’s not unusual to miss a brain injury. It’s why they are called  the “walking wounded”. The cause is usually related to trauma but the effect is usually not known until it’s too late.

Years ago, the defense called their head trauma expert to the witness stand in one of our brain injury cases. We had already put our case on and had several treating doctors testify that our client had a brain injury. Now, this defense witness had been identified as a doctor who was going to disagree with all the treating doctors.

He admitted that our client had hit her head. He even admitted that she might have had a concussion. But he went on to say that it was just like a football player who just “had their bell rung, but that didn’t mean that they had to come out of the game”. In essence, his testimony was that our client’s brain injury was no big deal.

The NFL has announced that they are considering a radical rule change. Here is an article explaining that the NFL is poised to eliminate kickoffs. Why? According to a recent study (Here) 16% of football injuries occur during the kickoff, and those injuries have a high probability of concussion related.

It probably will not happen this year. But, it would not surprise me to see no kickoff next year, with the ball starting at the 25-year-line to start the game. I suspect they are still working out the issue of onside kicks because that adds another dimension to the end of the game… and trying to catch up.

All I know, fortunately juries would no longer put up with a hired defense expert saying such nonsense as though a head injury is no big deal when you are wearing a helmet. That’s because the NFL and its former players are putting head injuries in the headlines. Plus, no one is wearing a helmet while they drive. So these injuries are possibly even worse.

And for pic o’ day, I completely agree!

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Brain Injury in Football

Yesterday while watching an NFL game, I saw a referee stop play and make a offensive lineman leave the game. The official believed that the lineman had taken a hit to the head; so he was escorted to the sideline for a concussion screening.

Last week in another game, I saw a player get hit in the head during a tackle. He got up slowly and the game announcers noted that doctors were escorting him to the sideline. They went on to explain that an independent doctor unrelated to the team would assess the player for concussion symptoms, and make a determination whether he could go back in the game.

Both of these events are new to the NFL. With attention being given to head injuries, a blow to the head is no longer just “getting your bell rung”.

A Hollywood film titled Concussion starring Will Smith, follows the true story of Bennet Omalu. In 2005 he  shocked the football world and especially the NFL by reporting his study in the journal Neurosurgery that detailed his discovery of the disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He based his findings on what he had found while reviewing a scan of the brain of former Pittsburgh Steeler center Mike Webster. The article is aptly title “The Autopsy That Changed Football”  

This clinical pathologist thought that the NFL would be receptive to his findings. Instead, he says that he was made to feel “like he was practicing Voodoo”.

A recent study of 87 of the 91 brains of former NFL players tested by researchers with the Department of Veteran Affairs and Boston University, showed that they tested positive for that same disease that had been found in Mike Webster’s brain: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE),  In other words, 95.6 percent of former NFL players who had passed away had brains damage that proved that they had been suffering from a disease that has been linked to dementia, depression and even the suicides of several Hall of Fame players.

For years, the NFL fought to disassociate itself from accepting that there is a relationship of football trauma to brain injuries. In fact, the NFL formed a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee  to issue an opinion that no NFL player had experienced chronic brain damage from repeat concussions. And in that same Frontline documentary mentioned above, the committee stated that “Professional Players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis”.

That committee was disbanded in 2008. Fortunately, even the general public knows better. Now, the focus is on safety and recovery. However, I still think that the NFL does not necessarily accept responsibility.

 

And for pic o’ day, a bit of customer service:

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NFL Helmets and Concussions

     I was in the middle of a brain injury case. It was a jury trial in South Carolina. The defense had their defense witness on the stand, testifying about my client’s injuries and resulting problems.

     This was the kind of doctor that had an answer for everything. He bills for medical reviews, based on how many records he reviews. That’s not that unusual, until you ask him to describe the billing practice. “I put the medical records in a pile; put a ruler next to the pile and bill by the inch”. The jury leaned forward a bit there.

     His basis for testimony that my client couldn’t have any long term effects from the crash, was compared to  his knowledge of high school football. He looked at the jury and smirked, “you know how it works out there; a football player might ‘have his bell rung’ but that doesn’t mean that he can’t play next week”.

     That testimony was back in 2004. Since that time, the public awareness of brain injuries has become more prevalent. Almost everyone has seen a news story on it and most football fans can probably  even discuss a football player that still suffers from a head injury during their career.  

     If you get the new PlayStation Madden 2011 football game, it even has players suffering concussions. Then, they are unable to play the following week. It’s make believe but it’s based on our growing knowledge of head injuries.

     Sports Illustrated is also reporting on a Virginia Tech study of NFL football helmets. According to the study just released by a professor of biomedical engineering at the college, Stefan Duma; 40% of NFL players last year, wore a helmet model that got the second lowest rating for reducing the risk of concussions.

     More attention is being paid to prevention. More players are now aware of recovery issues and long term effects. No longer is it considered a badge of honor to dust yourself off and run back in the game. Then later, brag about the fact that you played and can’t even remember really being out there.

     In jury trials, juries are now in possession of more common knowledge about the long term effects of brain injury. No longer can a defense lawyer simply pay someone to come in and testify. Well, they still might pay them to testify but it doesn’t mean that what they say carries a lot weight anymore.

     I remember hearing the illustration about the Hubble Telescope.  When it first was carried into orbit in 1990, it captured clusters and galaxies that we never knew existed. Just because we had never seen all that amazing astronomy did not mean that it was not there. We just did not have the technology to see and understand.

     In brain injuries, there is more research that helps us understand the problems and solutions of head injuries and concussions. Even better equipment for NFL players is being explored. It’s understanding and then finding solutions. Meanwhile, these defense doctors will have to come up with different testimony, if they want to keep getting paid by the defense.  Maybe the next defense will be,  “you see it but it’s not really there”.

Empty Calories

     He looks her right in the eye. He knows that their relationship may be changed by the upcoming three months. The gate attendant says, “final boarding call to London”. She  wonders if he will meet someone else, while she spends this semester on foreign study. She takes a bangle bracelet off her wrist and puts it on his, “I want this to help you remember me”. He half-smiles and says, ” I don’t need anything to help  remember you”.

     If the above fictional couple did end up getting married, I’m sure that they would tell that story over and over to their kids and grandkids. My wife and I were just reminiscing about names we called/call our grandparents.

 Just saying the word “Pop Pop” brings a smile to my face because of the memories associated with that name. Whenever my “Grammy” would put a pie in the refrigerator, you knew you could have a piece, if there was also a knife sitting under the tin foil too. Aren’t memories a wonderful thing.

     Kodak built an empire on memories. First, just being able to take a photo of something, froze it in time. Then, adding the “moving pictures” created more method to remember the memories. Now, everyone is carrying a cell phone with the capability of capturing, without planning. Then, even emailing it to others.

     There are companies now who focus their business on storing memories. They run commercials of the “what if” type, to scare you.  What would happen if you lost those memories?

     I am redundantly emphasizing the importance of memories because, in my practice, I see clients who suffer head injuries and experience short term and long term memory loss. Then, family members report that the person they knew, no longer exists. As a result, the effects of a brain injury lead to divorce in a majority of couples, where one spouse has suffered a head injury.

     Defense attorneys and insurance companies don’t want to accept responsibility for head injuries. In fact, at a recent Defense seminar on how to defend against a brain injury, the panel emphasized specific defenses and attacks to lessen the financial exposure of a brain injury claim.

     I was interested in these emphasized defenses of that panel. That panel consisted of a doctor, who is regularly hired by the defense and I have seen him repeatedly; There was also a defense attorney who has defended against several claims, brought by my clients who suffer the effects of brain injury. Finally, there was an insurance adjuster who has been assigned to many of my claims, when her employer/insurance company is the carrier providing insurance coverage for the claim.

     In their own words, the panel had specific advice for those defending brain injury claims. Get prior records of the education and work history and show that they were not exceptional students or workers before the crash. Get their medication history to show that any effects of the medicine could actually be cause of the problem and not the crash. Finally, establish that the person is “just depressed” from everyday life, rather than suffering the effects of brain injury.

     An article was published in the Virginia Lawyers Weekly, that set forth these defenses and recommendations of that panel. Since I see these defenses repeatedly, it was no surprise, except to see it in print.

     I wonder why accepting responsibility for harms caused, is so difficult? Why does a person that gets hurt, face attacks and blame? Why would a doctor specialize in helping defense attorneys defend against brain injury claims?

      I guess a defense attorney feels that they are just doing their job. However, even when my client gets a significant settlement or recovery, it never feels like winning. I don’t look at a jury verdict as an award.  

The only satisfaction to the client is what that verdict or settlement can do. It helps to afford treatment that includes testing, therapy, counseling, medication and coping mechanisms.   Those seminar tips, that those attendees were gobbling up, to equip in reducing a recovery, may seem very filling as an argument to a jury. To me, I think that a jury sees them as nothing but empty calories, in that defense blame game.

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