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Published October 08. 2010 05:00PM

Nearly three weeks ago, Marc Gallagher ran onto the field at Men of Marian Stadium to care for a downed football player.

It wasn't the normal ankle, knee or shoulder injury.

Unfortunately, it was an injury that no coach, teammate, parent, fan or athletic trainer wants to see happen to any player. The Colt suffered serious injuries that included a severe concussion.

According to a study by Henry Ford Hospital and the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, "nearly 63,000 concussions occur nationally each year" in high school athletics.

Instead of getting caught up in the emotion of seeing a player laying there, the Marian Catholic Athletic Trainer and his supporting cast did their job.

"We just kind of left our experience take over and did the best we could for that kid in that situation," Gallagher said. "There was really no nervousness, no tension. It was just pull together and get what we need done for that particular athlete at that time."

For each and every game they attend throughout the varsity sport season, Gallagher and his fellow athletic trainers prep to expect the unexpected.

A line in the article "Program Improves Concussion Care for High School Athletes" states that an estimated 10-percent of high school athletes playing contact sports sustain concussions each year, but only a fraction receive proper treatment.

Gallagher, who is serving his 12th year as Marian's trainer, and Dave Smith, who's in his 21st year at Palmerton Area High School, have seen their fair share of concussions over the year. They take them very seriously.

Gallagher educates the Colts' coaching staff and athletes about concussions well before the season kicks off.

"We have certain protocols that are set in place as far as athletic trainers go, as far as doctors go and the coaches are all educated on every matter there is regarding concussions," Gallagher said. "So, it starts preseason. Then, when something like that occurs, we educate the parents and let them know what kind of things to look for. An athlete needs to follow a certain set of protocols, step by step, in order to return to competition from any kind of concussion."

Trainers work with their staffs to ensure it is safe for an athlete to return to play. That is crucial in preventing serious long-term damage that may result from a second concussion.

"My first order of business is the health of the athlete," said Smith, who treats an average of three or four concussion a year. "My analogy is the human body is a car and the head is the engine. If the engine isn't working, nothing else functions. Our first concern is the health and well-being of the athletes. Their return to play is based upon several circumstances.

"One would be the recovery of the athlete. And, the time-table is going to be different for each because each person's body is going to react differently.

"The second point would be with the follow-up visit with the doctor. I work with the doctors hand-in-hand to make sure that the athlete is telling the same story to both individuals. You will get some athletes that will tell me one thing. I say go to the doctor and they say fine. They go to the doctor and they'll tell the doctor something else because they want to play. So, they may try to buck the system thinking that it's going to not be as bad as they think."

Denying the injury and proper treatment increases risks exponentially. That's why trainers heavily stress the improtance of athletes reporting their symptoms.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "athletes who have ever had a concussion are at increased risk for another concussion" and "young children and teens are more likely to get a concussion and take longer to recover than adults."

But, "a repeat concussion that occurs before the brain recovers from the first usually within a short period of time (hours, days or weeks) can slowly recovery or increase the likelihood of having long-term problems."

No athlete wants to be sidelined with an injury. Playing careers only last a limited number of years and most players work year round to get the most out of their time on the field.

"You have a handful of athletes who accept the diagnosis and accept what you're saying," Smith said. "Most of the time you have young men and women who are stubborn. I don't mean it to be nasty, but they're stubborn. They want to play, which I could understand that, but there's a fine line between being hurt and risking permanent injury. To try and get the point across is very difficult sometimes, and sometimes I just have to be stern and just say, 'You know what. You're not going in. You're done.' They aren't happy with it.

"But, in the long run, they understand deep down. I mean they know what I'm saying, but they're just so involved and the adrenaline is so up that they want to get in there. And, at that time, they're not thinking clearly. But, once they sit back and kind of view the whole perception, they understand that I'm there for their health and well-being. But, it's just hard for young people to accept that they cannot play. But, I just tell them, 'You know what your health is more important than any kind of contest.'"

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