Jake Dorrance loves sports. But just a few months ago, he wasn’t sure he would be on the field when the Hinsdale South football team returned to practice.
It wasn’t until just before the first practice of the season that Dorrance, a senior at South, was cleared to play after suffering a concussion more than a year earlier.
The blow to the head, suffered during a workout in the school weight room during the summer before junior year, was the second for Dorrance.
“The first one was as a freshman playing on the basketball team. It happened in practice. I was elbowed in the back of the head during a drill,” he said.
Dorrance recovered quickly from the resulting concussion. But when he was hit again, his symptoms didn’t go away as easily.
“My second concussion was much worse. I experienced bad headaches, I was very dizzy all of the time, I struggled to focus on anything,” said Dorrance.
He sought help from vestibular specialist Tim Rylander, director of the concussion management program at Accelerated Physical Therapy in Western Springs. Over three months, Rylander took Dorrance through various therapies to help him to recover from the injury. They used eye charts and focusing exercises to get Dorrance’s sight back to normal, and Rylander used manual therapy to relieve headaches and balance problems that might be caused by a resulting neck injury.
“It is rare that you get a concussion without some neck trauma,” Rylander said.
Balance also is a big part of recovery.
“We use the Nintendo Wii a lot,” Rylander said, not only for balance but also to increase tolerance of cognitive stress.
Dorrance was cleared in time to play in the last four games of the 2012 football season. But about a month and a half into the volleyball season, his symptoms returned. Four more months of therapy followed.
Thirteen months after his injury, Dorrance returned to the football field for his senior season, but another blow to the head could mean the end of competitive sports for Dorrance, said his dad, Hinsdale Central football and baseball coach Tom Dorrance.
“We have to keep an eye on it,” Coach Dorrance said.
Unfortunately, another injury is entirely possible. The Sports Concussion Institute in Los Angeles reports that a history of concussions is a major determinant of future injuries.
Subsequent concussions can require a longer recovery time and can have lasting, even lifelong effects.
Like his five sons, Tom Dorrance loves sports. But no sport is worth putting a person’s health at risk, he said.
“You have to weigh the risk with the benefits,” he said.
Dorrance said there is no way to eliminate the risk of being injured in football or in any other sport. But sports are safer today simply because of the increased awareness and knowledge of concussive injuries.
“We used to say you had your bell rung. They threw salt capsules at you and you were back in the game,” he said.
Now, coaches, trainers, parents and athletes know better.
“We don’t mess around with that,” he said.
Now, it is the athletic trainers, not the coaches or the athlete, who decide when a player returns to the game. And that happens only when he or she passes the return-to-play protocol set by the Illinois High School Association.
Delaying treatment or returning to sports too soon can have lasting, negative effects, Rylander said.
“You can’t push through it,” said Rylander. “We’re talking about their lives.”