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Justice with Jessica: Young football player's death led to concussion law

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Posted at 11:59 AM, Oct 14, 2022

High school football players across the country are battling their way through the season. The hits they face during the games can follow them long after their time on the field is over.

The Jake Snakenberg Youth Sports Concussion Act aims to protect young athletes from concussions. It was developed after the death of 14-year-old Jake Snakenberg in 2004.

"In 2004, Jake got up at 6:15 in the morning in anticipation of his freshman football game," says Kelli Jantz, Snakenberg's mother. "He loved football and all it offered — the physical challenge, the spirit of competition, and probably most of all, the friendships that were involved."

Snakenberg was a Grandview High School student.

In 2016, Jantz told her son's story to Congress in a hearing on concussions in youth sports.

"He had suffered an injury where his arms and hands went numb and tingly," Jantz shared at the hearing. "What he described to us sounded like maybe he had tweaked his neck or strained his neck. He hadn't lost consciousness. He didn't see stars. You wouldn't have associated it with a major type of injury."

Jantz said her son never told her about any headaches. Later on, she learned he did complain about them to his friends.

Days later, on Sept. 18, 2004, Snakenberg took a hard hit during warm-ups before a game.

"That really appeared to shake him," says Jantz. "He noticed me looking on and waved me off to let me know that he was okay. And when the game began and he lined up for a play. Right before the snap, Jake stumbled forward. A whistle was blown, and they call the penalty, and a flag was thrown, and Jake got up and started to come to the sideline, and then stumbled and went down again. And he never got back up again."

Snakenberg was airlifted to a hospital, but ultimately passed away. Jantz says her son's cause of death was Second Impact Syndrome.

"Since Jake's death, I've made it my mission to continue to raise awareness of the consequences of concussions in new sports," says Jantz.

Her mission helped lead to the creation of the Jake Snakenberg Youth Sports Concussion Act. It's also known as Jake's Law, and was enacted in 2012.

The law:
1. Requires middle and high school coaches to complete annual concussion education,
2. Requires coaches to immediately remove concussed athletes from games or practices, and
3. Specifies that athletes cannot return to games or practices until they have been evaluated and cleared by a medical professional

"For a young person, they're in such a developmental part of their life. Their brain is developing, everything is developing, and to damage their brain during this period of development can have a lifelong impact," says Gavin Atwood, President of the U.S. Brain Injury Alliance.

Atwood helped develop Jake's Law. He says the law doesn't stop kids from getting concussions, but it helps ensure that they are handles with the proper protocol.

"Once they have a concussion, it is managed appropriately to give the child — the youth — the opportunity to truly heal and not have long-term deficits," says Atwood.

Jeffrey McWhorter, the owner of McWhorter CNR, is a chiropractic neurologist who has helped both young and professional players recover from head injuries.

"You got to realize that from birth until about age 28, our brains are developing," he says.

According to McWhorter, healing from a head injury can take time and effort. Even with that, if the injury is bad enough, it may be best that the athlete ultimately doesn't return to the field.

"By far, the hardest part of my job is having to tell people that have worked their whole life for certain sporting events that maybe they have to sit on the bench," he says. "Or maybe it's time to hang up the helmet."

There is hope that more people can avoid those outcomes.

A study published in 2017 indicates that when laws like Jake's Law are passed, there is an increase in the number of concussions that are reported. About 2 1/2 years after traumatic brain injury laws are passed, rates of recurrent concussions significantly decline, according to the Colorado School of Public Health.

The stats signal the possibility that more lives, like Snakenberg's, could be saved in the future.

"Jake was often referred to as our social butterfly in our family had a big heart and genuinely genuinely cared for those in his life," says Jantz. "He had a joy about him that others could not resist. His big brother summed it up best when they said Jake drank up life like it was pouring from a firehouse. He gave 110% to everything."

Headaches, nausea, poor balance, and confusion can all be signs of a concussion in your child.

Experts suggest to keep in touch with your child's coach and doctor on the symptoms. If parents don't believe that Jake's Law is being followed, they can bring a civil lawsuit.