Prayers Not Enough For Victims of Second Impact Syndrome

Tyler Lewellen

Tyler Lewellen, 16, died after being involved in a tackle in a scrimmage football game last week.

I am a spiritual person.  Active prayer is not a part of my everyday, but I understand prayer. I understand that we can pray for forgiveness, for something we want or need, for solace or for understanding.

I was stunned today by a YouTube video entitled “Pray for Tyler” (no longer available on YouTube). Tyler Lewellen, 16 years old, is a California high school football player who lost consciousness shortly after a pileup tackle in a scrimmage last Thursday and died five days later, never having regained consciousness.  He and his family certainly deserve the prayers of those around them along with their devastated community.

But as they seek solace in their grief, the wider world also needs to seek understanding of a less spiritual variety.  What the hell happened to Tyler?  It’s okay to be angry. Because Tyler represents the 25th high school football player in the U.S. to die as a direct result of his football-related injury in the past nine years.  We need medical and legal answers, not just prayer for metaphysical questions.

Some things we know.  It may not be just an accident. It may not be a mere fluke.  Unless a post mortem investigation shows an unusual cardiac or other abnormality, there is a good chance it’s called second impact syndrome.  It’s a known quantity and what we need to find out is whether Tyler’s brain was injured prior to this apparently inconsequential hit during the pileup.  Second impact syndrome can happen hours, days or weeks following an initial hit (to the head, neck or body) that may induce “sub concussive” injury to the brain.  For reasons that are not well understood, a subsequent blow or blows then puts in motion a dramatic cascade of metabolic and anatomic shifts that can lead to brain hemorrhage, seizures, loss of consciousness and death.

It is precisely scenarios like these that have been the impetus for almost every state in the United States to mandate the development of concussion policies in public schools.

So what the coaches, the parents, the trainers, the lawyers and the community in California need to do is not to look at the video of the final scrimmage, but at any evidence from plays and games, on the field and off, that there may have been a primary injury.  Was an apparently minor hit missed?  Did he show any signs or symptoms of “minor” head trauma before that final day of practice?  Should he have been resting, on the bench, recuperating?  How was he doing academically?  Was he forgetful? Was he different?

We may never know, but we have to go looking for the evidence.  This way the community will learn along with the whole country.   Only then will the possible disgrace that this represents be turned into grace.