BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Several local experts on sports related injuries believe 16-year-old Damon Janes was one of first high school students from Western New York in more than three decades to die directly from a football-related injury.
So far this year, Janes is the only high school football player to die from injuries sustained on the field. Four have others survived catastrophic injuries.
Dr. Jason Matuszak, director of the Sports Concussion Center in Amherst, says catastrophic injuries most often happen from improper tackling technique.
"The players might not still be getting the message they need to get," he said.
Dr. Matuszak explains a catastrophic brain injury can happen in football if during a hit, the brain forcibly rotates inside the skull. That's much more serious than a concussion, and also rarer.
He officiates high school football games in Western New York and says schools here use fewer officials at football games than schools elsewhere. Dr. Matuszak believes more referees could help spot illegal hits, penalize them, and prevent them from happening again.
"But when prevention doesn't work, we do need to penalize," he said.
Serious sports injuries get a lot of attention, but research shows the injuries don't lead to death nearly as often as they used to.
"In the old days, a kid went down on the field and they dragged him off to get the game started again. But now they don't move him until they're sure it's safe to move him," said Dr. Fred Mueller at the University of North Carolina.
Dr. Mueller is the country's premier researcher on football injuries. His numbers show in the 1960s, between 25 and 30 high school football players died each year directly from a football injury. That number has dropped to an average of three deaths each year over the last 10 years.
According to the numbers, the sport is safer now than it used to be. But Dr. Matuszak says it's still important for parents to know the risks.
"And to have very frank discussions about those things with their child who wants to play sports," he said.
And there is some encouraging news from the UB Concussion Management Clinic. Ninety percent of teens who receive a concussion locally are cured within seven to 10 days with no long-term effects. Another eight percent are better within six weeks, which leaves just two percent who continue to suffer lasting effects from a concussion.
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