UW Medicine, NFL team up to study sports-related traumatic brain injuries

SEATTLE -- Doctors in the Pacific Northwest are working hard to minimize catastrophic brain injures for all student athletes.

University of Washington Medicine recently received a $2.5 million donation from the NFL to study how to prevent and treat sports-related concussions.

Doctors at the university said the number of sports-related deaths and injuries are going down. But they add more work needs to be done to remind parents, coaches and players just how dangerous it can be to ignore signs of head injuries.

“It starts with the kids,” said Dr. Richard Ellenbogen. “We need to educate, we need to advocate for them. Then it goes to parents. Then it goes to everybody.”

Q13 FOX News is looking into this issue as part of our Q13 Safe Kids campaign.

Ellenbogen and Dr. Stanley Herring at UW Medicine have studied traumatic brain injuries for decades.

“Young concussions recover more slowly than in adults,” said Herring. “It appears that unique and very tragic things may be limited to young people.”

The $2.5 million donation from the NFL helped to create the first of its kind ‘Sports Health and Safety Institute’ and the program was largely inspired by Zackery Lystadt.

In 2006, Zack suffered a hit to his head while playing football for Tahoma High School. He returned to the game but his injuries got worse.  He spent the next three months in a coma. Now he’s learning to eat, talk and walk again.

“I wanna walk a lot more,” he said. “I just wanna be normal.”

Zack’s injury led to a new state law passed in his name, which dictates that student athletes must be removed from a game if there is even a possibility of a head injury; 47 other states have enacted similar laws.

UW Medicine doctors said better awareness among coaches is leading to significant change on and off the field.

“Is it better tackling techniques? Is it better helmets? We’re working on all these things now,” said Ellenbogen.

Despite his son Zack's catastrophic injuries, Victor Lystadt hopes that Kenney Bui’s death after his Evergreen High School football injury doesn’t lead parents to pull their kids off the field.

“Give the kid the time needed to recover,” he said. “I wouldn’t deny a kid from playing any sport. I really wouldn’t. There’s too much good that sports do for people.”

Doctors said life is a contact sport and keeping young people from being active would be an over-reaction by moms and dads.

“We don’t want kids coming off the playing fields, out of the playgrounds, off the bicycles because of the risk of traumatic brain injury,” added Ellenbogen.

Doctors said the recent tragedy serves as a reminder to parents, coaches and mostly young people to pay close attention to potential head injuries on the field.