Emphasizing safety (extended version)

(Here’s an extended version of the concussion story that ran in Tuesday’s Star-Advertiser. The print version had limited space.)

There were a few chairs nearby, but Jeremiah Andrade couldn’t sit.

For the first time in his young football life, the shifty Leilehua receiver was sidelined. He still had his road white jersey on, but from the pressbox at Kapolei High School’s field, all he could do was watch with some of the Mules’ coaching staff.

“I was on my toes a lot,” he said after a close win on Friday.

Andrade and teammate Russell Siavii both suffered concussions in a season-opening 34-all tie with Service (Alaska) nearly two weeks ago. Siavii’s injury was relatively minor and he was back on the field for the Kapolei game. Andrade, however, did not pass the testing process administered by school trainers. He’ll be out at least one more week unless he can clear more testing.

Andrade is just one of thousands of football players nationwide who face stern regulations when it comes to head injuries. Years ago, football players shook off hard hits and all the symptoms that come with getting your “bell rung” and “seeing stars.” Now, with evidence mounting that head injuries — concussions — lead to permanent brain damage and even death, it seems nothing can prevented football head injuries at any level. Technology has not kept up with the bigger, faster, stronger athlete.

Andrade had a superb junior season last year, catching 53 passes, and is among the top returnees in the state this fall. But his injury has put everything on hold, mainly because of the concussion detection system, which was implemented as a new policy last year. Six schools on Oahu were used as pilot programs.

“I failed the concussion test. It’s a six-part test with all kinds of words and patterns that you have to remember,” Andrade said.

Trainers compare new test results with “pre-test” numbers taken when student-athletes are in their freshman and junior seasons.

“There’s a reaction test with circles. If you fail any part of the test, you have to have 100 percent or you can’t play,” Andrade said, noting that he got only one of the four problems correct. The second time Andrade took the test, he got three out of four right.

Ross Oshiro of the Hawaii Athletic Trainers Association considers the detection system in the DOE to be “one of the best.”

“We’re using the IMPACT program. There’s a balance test. The adults relate it to the DUI test, but it’s a little different. It’s called the Balance Error Scoring System,” he said, noting that the pre-testing is also known as the Baseline Test. Then comes treatment after the concussion.

“Once the kid gets concussed, if he shows any signs and symptoms of a concussion, from the national federation rules, the athlete is removed from the practice or play. The referee can also do that. It’s in the game rules as such,” Oshiro said.

Though the system varies a bit from state to state, the reaction of athletes is universal.

“Kids will be frustrated and they don’t understand at first. Parents have to learn the process, too,” Oshiro said.

Andrade went through the normal reaction and emotions when he was forced to sit out.

“Honestly, I was kind of mad when I failed the test. I wanted to just play, but after talking to trainers and stuff, there’s a possibility that if I get hurt again, I could die. I said, ‘OK,’ just to be safe.”

The trainers weren’t exaggerating. Over the recent weekend, Damien quarterback/defensive back Alan Mohika went down with a severe concussion and lost consciousness. Coach Eddie Klaneski said Mohika was not breathing and had no pulse. With no ambulance at the facility — budget costs have eliminated that luxury over the years — that left Nohea and Floyd Mohika at wit’s end as they saw their son slowly drift away on the sideline.

“Alan was on the bench having these seizures and my husband was holding him,” Nohea Mohika said. “He said, ‘I love you’ and he slipped right through my husband’s arms and fell to the ground. It keeps replaying through my husband’s mind. I was kind of like a crazy lady, telling our people to call an ambulance, call 911. I saw his eyes roll back. I’m trying to help him breathe through his mouth. I lost all my CPR skills because I was kind of going crazy at that point.”

Mohika was admitted to Queen’s Medical Center, where swelling and bleeding in the brain was monitored and treated. Since then, the strength of his parents has helped Mohika recover. By Sunday morning, he was able to get out of bed and doctors moved him out of the ICU at Queen’s Medical Center. As of yesterday, his football season was done, and he’s looking forward to baseball season in the spring.

“He’s so small (5-foot-7, 155 pounds), he steps back to to pass and I can’t see my own son,” Nohea said. “I said, ‘Son, I wish I could bubble wrap you, every piece of your body, but he was ready. He recovered so quickly because he prepared himself.”

Mohika spent countless hours in the weight room, constantly consuming protein and calories to gain weight.

“Sometimes, it scares me to death that he plays football, but he loves the game and I wasn’t going to be the one to stop him,” Nohea Mohika said. “If I did, he would regret it for the rest of his life and he would blame me.”

Despite the risks, there have been many concussion victims who returned to the field. Two years ago, Pac-Five wide receiver Everett Kim was taken to a hospital with a concussion during a game against Kamehameha. He returned last season as a senior and was voted to the All-State team as an honorable mention pick.

Andrade, a 5-7, 155-pound senior, likely has a bright future ahead whether he returns to the gridiron this year or not. He knows there are limitations until he has recovered fully. He remembers bits and pieces of the night he got hurt.

“Allen Racette caught the ball and I went to crack-back on 43 (Matt Ilalio) of Service). We had head-to-head contact and his helmet came off. I got up and I was dizzy. I walked back to the huddle and I have no clue of what happened after that,” he said.

Andrade stayed in the game for five more plays.

“They said I threw a 2-point conversion, but I don’t even remember that,” he added.

Andrade and the Mules met many of the Service players at a get-together the night before the game. He befriended Ilalio, but couldn’t remember his name after the hit. Since then, his mother has taken the advised precautions and Andrade has listened.

“I’d rather sit out and be safe. Time heals it. Resting and sleeping. I was so sick, I couldn’t use my phone. The trainers and doctors persuaded my mom to take away my phone and rest my brain. I had to deal with the fact of not watching TV, using the computer. It was kind of hard, but I’m feeling better.”

That’s why Andrade has yet to see the play that left Mohika injured.

“I hope he’s OK. I hope he gets better,” Andrade said. “It’s better just to be safe. I don’t want to face deeper consequences.”

Nohea Mohika has been determined to be steady for her son.

“For me to fall is not good for my son. If I stand strong and stand tall, my son will stand right beside me,” she said. “I don’t mind sharing our story because this is a learning thing. Football is a game to take serious, it really is. With the equipment some schools supply, not having a doctor on the field, it’s all so important. We put some many kids out to college and a lot of them pass through to the nFL, but our schools have to make sure they’re well-equipped.”

Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser


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