Sahuarita Unified School District is making history again when it comes to brain concussed students.

The district is the first in the nation to use portable brain scanning equipment to show when it’s safe for student-athletes to play again following a hard hit or blow to the head.

Three years ago, SUSD created a protocol to follow when students suffer a concussion, regardless of where it occurred or whether it was sports-related. Then, last year, the district became the third in the nation to begin using mobile virtual football players during practice in the hopes of reducing concussions among student athletes.

On Thursday, SUSD girls soccer players lined up at Walden Grove High School to undergo an electroencephalogram, or EEG, test.

The tests will serve as a baseline; if they ever suffer a concussion, doctors will be able to determine when it is safe for them to return to play.

The brain scan technology was purchased with funds donated to the district, said SUSD Superintendent Manny Valenzuela. After soccer season, officials will decide if the program should be expanded beyond the initial $5,000 investment to include all student athletes.

The opportunity to launch the pilot program came as a result of the district’s work with Dr. Jon Minor and Dr. Mo Mortazavi from the Sports Medicine, Rehabilitation and Concussion Center in Tucson, Valenzuela said.

The doctors had connections with Baslyne Brain Scan Technologies, a San Diego-based company that distributes the scan that was developed by University of Colorado researchers.

Soccer players are more likely to be concussed than all other athletes aside from football players, Valenzuela said.

Because of that, and the fact the opportunity with Baslyne came up after football season had already started, the district chose the girls’ soccer teams for the pilot program.

The girls from Walden Grove and Sahuarita High School will have their brains scanned prior to their first practice at the end of October.

Doctors have discovered when someone suffers a concussion, their brains suffer a 40 to 50 percent loss in voltage, Baslyne founder Jeff Wadstrom said. They also learned players were being returned to play because they no longer suffered physical symptoms of a concussion, but their brain voltage hadn’t yet returned to 100 percent.

By having a baseline EEG scan on hand, doctors will be able to compare it with scans taken within 24-48 hours of a player being concussed and as they go through concussion protocols, Wadstrom said.

If an athlete’s primary care physician clears an athlete to play and the EEG scan indicates their brain still isn’t healed, the athlete’s parents will have two options, Wadstrom said.

The parents can sign a waiver releasing the school district from liability and allow their child to return to play or they can decide to wait until they are confident their child’s brain is fully healed.

The scans will join a handful of other baseline tests administered by doctors on SUSD athletes.

Already, every student athlete in SUSD undergoes a neurocognitive, vision, balance and hand/eye coordination test along with a physical exam. The district has been using those tests to compare how they perform following a conduction.

The scan

WGHS soccer players Siena Ciruli, Alexis Alvarado and TaCoree Parker were the first to have their baselines established. During a four-minute test, the girls sat in front of a computer screen, with an EEG cap on their head and were asked to click the mouse when they heard “oddball noises” among 200 common noises.

They were also asked to find the number 1 through 25 on a maze and they had to find A through M and 1 through 13 on the maze and touch them, letter first. For example, they had to find A, then 1 and then go back to find B and 2, and so on.

The test results revealed the girls’ brain voltage, their physical reaction time and if they had neck or jaw tension. Wadstrom said it’s common for people to be diagnosed with a concussion when they actually are only suffering from neck and jaw tension or dehydration.

By mapping athletes’ brains, doctors can look at post-injury scans to verify they were concussed. They can also determine where in the brain they were concussed to better target their rehab efforts, Wadstrom said.

As far as she knows, Ciruli said she’s never suffered a concussion, but she’s watched fellow athletes recover from them and knows they are a “big problem.”

“It’s cool,” the district is participating in the pilot program, she said.

“It shows they care and they’re doing a lot for student wellness and athletes as well,” she said.

Parker was amazed at how hard the A1 to M13 test was and was surprised to learn doctors use the test when diagnosing Alzheimer’s patients.

“Hopefully I don’t have that. That was hard!” she exclaimed.

As it turns out, Wadstrom and Sarah Dachtyl, SUSD’s concussion management team leader, told her she scored within the normal range on all levels.

Kim Smith 547-9740

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