Katie Ribbens—Staff Writer
“A girl hit me on the head when we were both going for the ball,” said Hailey Ten Pas, a sophomore at Dordt and a member of the women’s soccer team, as she peered up from her Dordt soccer cap.
Recovering from a concussion, she donned it to block the light from her sensitive eyes and dull the throbbing in her skull.
“And that took a lot of time to think about because I cannot remember.”
It only takes one impact to throw your brain—sloshing around in fluid—against your skull, perhaps causing permanent damage. A mild traumatic brain injury or concussion can cause anything from headaches and nausea to loss of balance and amnesia.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 5.3 million Americans suffer from a brain injury-related disability. The National Library of Medicine attributes concussions for 80-90% of brain injuries and classify them as a major national health concern. As concussion numbers steadily increase, experts worry about the long-term effects.
Dr. Bruce Vermeer, a psychology professor at Dordt, recently attended the annual conference of the National Academy of Neuropsychology. Leading authorities on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, presented the latest information in the field. CTE, which is caused by repeated head injuries, is a major concern to those who have had concussions. Vermeer is concerned that sub-concussive impacts, which are more common than concussions, could be causing more damage.
“It’s the same kind of a blow to the head, but you don’t have the classic concussion symptoms develop,” Vermeer said. Without symptoms, individuals continue functioning as normal and don’t take precautions. “Even a sub-concussive impact can cause a cascading effect of neurometabolic processes.”
Repeated hits to the head cause a buildup of a natural tau proteins in the brain. In excessive amounts, they clumps together and kill neurons, or brain cells, which drastically affects the brain’s ability to function. Some common symptoms include paranoia, dementia, and difficulty modulating normal behavior, particularly aggression.
“Not everybody who experiences repetitive head impacts are going to go on to experience or develop CTE down the road,” Dr. Vermeer said. However, the risk is much higher for career athletes.
Soccer is classified as a high-risk sport since it encourages the player to hit the ball with their head. Six students from Dordt University’s women’s soccer team have been diagnosed with concussions this season.
“I don’t think it’s anything that they’ve [the coaches have] done,” Hannah Glynn, a junior at Dordt and member of the soccer team said. “I think we just got really unlucky.”
The coaches are very cautious whenever one of their players gets hit in the head and quickly tests them for concussions. However, Ten Pas suffered from one for five days and attended soccer practice like normal before seeking medical attention.
“I was very disappointed because right now we have a lot of teammates out,” Ten Pas said.
Glynn, who is also experiencing the effects of a concussion, felt optimistic about the season regardless of the number of players out of commission. w“Even though we have a lot more concussions than we’ve ever had before, I think we also have a lot better players than we’ve ever had before,” Glynn said. “So
when somebody is out, we have somebody who can fill in really well.”
The causes for concussions vary as much as their symptoms. Ten Pas collided with another player, Glynn slipped on the ball and fell to the ground, and another player was hit in the head with a ball.
Vermeer said it is possible the differences in symptoms is due to the part of the head that is hit. The back of the brain is responsible for balance. If that area is hit, the person will experience more dizziness. If the side of the brain is injured, the person may have more difficulty with memory and mood control.
While Ten Pas didn’t have to miss class, Glynn was forced to take a week off. Even when back in class, she had trouble keeping up.
“The best way to describe it is you feel kind of like a step behind everyone,” Glynn said. She appreciated how much her professors worked with her.
However, she cannot let her concussions alter the way she plays. When she’s on the field, Glynn has to be aggressive. While she worries about long-term effects of head impacts, she doesn’t plan to stop playing unless she continues experiencing detrimental symptoms.
“I’d have to get at least one or two more concussions before I really consider stopping,” Glynn said.
Ten Pas agreed that one concussion isn’t enough to deter her from playing.
“I’m so passionate about it,” Ten Pas said. “I really want to do everything I can to play.”