A recent study Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital states that about 40 percent of teenage athletes who received concussions during play are allowed to return to games too soon.
“Max’s Law” is a project lobbied for by Ralph Conradt, named after his son, Max Conradt, a former high school football player. Max’s Law is a piece of legislation aimed at reducing the risk of concussions to teenage athletes, and is one of perhaps two dozen such legislations pending in states across the country. Like many of these initiatives, Max’s Law is driven primarily by the grief and rage of someone – in this case, a father – who has lost his child as the result of brain injury. In the Conradt’s case, they son they knew has been done for eight long years.
“It was a vicious hit,” said Ralph Conradt. “A really bad hit.”
But Max got up. The seventeen year old quarterback staggered a bit, but he continued to play. The game ended, and he limped toward the sidelines where his family waited. There, he looked at his step-mother, Joy Conradt, and said, “My chin hurts.”
Before she could respond, he collapsed.
Later, doctors would explain that it was multiple concussions over the course of two weeks or so which led Max Conradt to lose consciousness that night. Blood was pooling dangerously in his brain. In a closed off waiting room at the hospital, these doctors explained to the boy’s anxious family the severity of his brain injury. They told the Conradts that Max would die.
“Up until then, I never heard of anyone ever dying in a football game,” Ralph Conradt confessed.
After months and several surgeries, Max did not die. He lived, still recovering on life support, struggling to stand, to communicate, and to remember the injury that had left him with the mental capacity of a nine year old.
“It’s a whole different thing losing your child to a brain injury,” said Joy Conradt. “The kid you knew is dead. Somebody completely different is in the body of the child you knew.”
Today, Max lives in an assisted living facility. He often remembers his glory days as a high school football quarterback. His memories and understanding of the injuries which led to his current condition are scant.
“I was sat on by a 280-pound lineman … he sat on my head,” says Max, now 25. “When I was walking off of the field, blood was gushing through my brain. I don’t remember, but that’s what happened.”
Max is lucky to have survived. While thinking about his injuries depresses him, he is not without goals and dreams. He still wishes to make the best of his life. Now twenty-five, he would like to return to school and have as normal a life as possible for him in his current condition.
While stories as severe as Max Conradt’s are relatively rare, taken against the many millions of teenagers who participate in high risk athletics, they are hardly isolated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate somewhere around 4 million sports and recreation related concussions a year. In most of these cases, there is no medical expert on the field. Parents and coaches are the ones left to respond. It is among coaches, parents and teen athletes themselves that the culture shift away from playing through concussions must take place. High school glory if fleeting, but, as Max Conradt’s case shows, a brain injury can last a lifetime.