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If you were a parent or a coach, if you were there Tuesday night at The Commons on the SSU campus, your head would have hurt as you listened to the experts talk about concussions. The list of symptoms is long. The list of sports in which a concussion can occur is even longer (all of them). The list of the tragic after-effects from an untreated concussion would numb the brain just by their mere recitation.

That's why anyone who cares about the health of their kid, or of their teammate, or of their friend, or of their player must start their learning curve now because the phrase "he got his bell rung" has morphed into something far more complicated than that dismissive statement. A 10-page instructional concussion pamphlet was given to the approximately 70 people in attendance. It was, by the way, a beginner's pamphlet.

"Only 10 percent of all concussions result in the loss of consciousness," said SRJC's head athletic trainer Monica Ohkubo, one of a five-member panel that discussed the recognition, prevention and response to concussions.

How's that for a complicated starting point?

And as a point of comparison, how does that compare to what happened to Robert Nied in 1989? He was a tight end for his Irvine high school football team. Nied was laid out on a hit, put an ice pack on his achy head and kept playing, didn't even miss a practice the next week. Nied didn't tell a soul of his pain.

"It wasn't until I was in med school that I diagnosed it as a concussion," said Robert, now Dr. Robert Nied, a sports medicine specialist at Kaiser Permanente.

Yes, of course, for anyone who has even paid even a casual glance at the sports pages in the last year or so, the topic of concussions is not new. With lawsuits against the NFL by former players, with player suicides and stories of dementia, violent mood swings and homelessness, the discussion of brain trauma in sports has been gaining traction. That's the unique nature of concussions. Public discourse has become more public, not less.

Congressman Mike Thompson is a Vietnam veteran who for years has been keenly interested in the care and treatment of soldiers who have served in combat. Along this path, Thompson became aware of brain injuries in the NFL, in particular by getting to know an ex-NFL player from his hometown of San Diego. Steve Hendrickson was a star at Cal and played seven seasons in the NFL with the 49ers and Chargers.

"Steve is in a bad way," Thompson said. "He has dementia. He is struggling."

Thompson found a commonality in brain trauma, that whether it be from war or football or soccer or hockey or baseball, it needed to be addressed. And so Thompson expanded his umbrella of concern and influence. His office called the athletic trainers at SSU and SRJC to set up Tuesday night's panel discussion. In mid-January Thompson will be speaking to the NFL on the issue.

"I was on Capitol Hill the other day," Thompson said, "and I told a colleague I was going to have this discussion. She said, &‘Good luck. I tried that in my district and people put a damper on it. &‘It will turn people off,' they said. &‘Make people shy away."'

Minimize or ignore altogether the issue that has parents wondering if their son should play football? Pretend that head trauma doesn't exist outside the NFL? Forget about the lawsuits and Junior Seau and Dave Duerson and Mike Webster? And so why don't we also say Sandy the superstorm was an off-shore breeze and be done with it?

"Every day last week," Ohkubo said, "I spent working with eight athletes who have suffered concussions. That's the kind of attention we (SRJC) are paying to concussions."

Since August, SSU has treated 17 athletes for concussion trauma, said Julie Rudy, SSU's head athletic trainer.

And, again, another point of comparison is useful.

"When I first entered the profession 25 years ago, a person with a concussion was diagnosed as either having a psychological disability or was using a concussion as a secondary gain, like getting out of work," said Dr. Nancy Chinn of the disability resources department at SRJC

As unintentional as it was, Dr. Chinn did provide a moment of levity with that previous statement. That was a much needed break in the class this panel was essentially teaching — the class being concussion education. It was serious, direct, with a slice of solemnity here and there. It was solemn and it had to be the necessary counterpoint to years of using someone with a concussion as laugh track. He heard a birdie. Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Give him a worm.

No one's joking now.

"But," I asked, "out of every 10 parents in Sonoma County, how many of them do you think really get it?"

Meaning, how many really understand the destructive nature of concussions, especially a second concussion occurring soon after the first.

"Zero. Maybe one," Ohkubo said.

That's why the panel met Tuesday night. And why it's are going to meet in mid-November in front of the Santa Rosa City School Board. And why Thompson said he would be more than eager to do this again in his Congressional district. The impact of concussion is not a one-time discussion. Can't be. For the very insidious of nature of it.

"There's no bleeding," Rudy said of outward symptoms. "It's invisible."

At the moment. But then later, and not that much later, it's not invisible. Just go on-line and Google "Steve Hendrickson." Look at his face. You'll know then why Tuesday night's panel was formed.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.