"It put the burden on us that we had to make sure that all Pop Warner football kids were tested. That's impossible. We can't do that," Hogen says. "What if an out-of-state group had come in and they didn't have this concussion testing? We wouldn't have had the resources to check."

Because a legal precedent has yet to be established on these new laws, attorneys are divided on how potential lawsuits will play out in a courtroom.

Steven Pachman is a Philadelphia-based lawyer who has advised numerous academic institutions and athletic entities about concussion litigation. Though Pachman declines to comment about specific clients, a records search shows he defended La Salle University in a lawsuit filed by the family of a former player. Preston Plevretes claimed he had received severe brain damage because the school's nurse and a team trainer inserted him back into play too soon following a concussion. (La Salle settled out of court for $7.5 million.)

David Goldstein spoke to Florida legislators about devastating effects from multiple concussions.
Photo by Michael McElroy
David Goldstein spoke to Florida legislators about devastating effects from multiple concussions.
Natasha Helmick once played a game half-blind after sustaining a concussion.
Photo by Mark Graham
Natasha Helmick once played a game half-blind after sustaining a concussion.

Pachman explains he receives a call every week from advice-seeking youths and high school sports organizations. "What I'm hearing from the defense perspective — 'We don't have a plan' and 'An athletic trainer is too expensive' — frightens me," he says.

Before concussion laws came into vogue, the parents of Zackery Lystedt of Seattle filed suit on their son's behalf. Airlifted to a Seattle emergency room on life support, Zackery had the top of his head completely removed by surgeons. He wasn't supposed to regain consciousness.

The milestones that have come since then have been both miraculous and frustratingly slow. Nine months later, Zackery resumed speaking. By 13 months, he moved his left arm. After 20 months, he could once again eat. Now, five years later, 18-year-old Zack can walk a few steps with a cane. "You get a little bit back, you want a little bit more," Victor Lystedt says of his son's progress. "You never get satisfied, because you had it all before."

Zack's parents, whose lives have been completely altered as they have cared full-time for their son, sued the school district for allowing him to play through his injury. The district settled, and one of its lawyers shrugged off the payout as a "business decision."

That still offends his father. "Shame on those lawyers," Victor says. "They can all rot in Hell as far as I'm concerned. There's nothing 'business' about my kid."

Born and raised in Santa Ana, California, Karoline "Kari" Krumpholz was destined for water polo greatness. Her father, Kurt Krumpholz, a three-time All-American selection in men's water polo, was inducted into UCLA's hall of fame in 2008, the same year that Kari's brother J.W. won an Olympic silver medal with the U.S. water polo team.

As a sophomore at Foothill High School, Kari and her water polo team won the 2007 California Southern Section Division I championship. Following a star-studded career that included numerous athletic honors, she accepted a scholarship to UCLA.

During a UCLA practice in February, Kari was defending "one of the strongest girls on the team" when she was clocked between the eyes by her teammate's elbow. Kari thought her nose was broken, but upon further examination, a student trainer said she was fine. As a precaution, the trainer made her skip the rest of practice.

However, Kari wasn't doing so well the next day. "I went to class and I knew something was wrong. I couldn't focus and I felt out of my body. I am a really good student, so for that to happen, I knew something wasn't right."

That day, a doctor diagnosed her with a concussion. Five months later, after nearly daily visits to various UCLA physicians as well as Orange County's Migraine & Headache Center, she's still experiencing symptoms.

To Kari's knowledge, this is the first concussion she has received. "But since I've been having so many problems, one doctor said that it's possible that I had undiagnosed concussions in the past," she says.

If and when her symptoms clear, Kari, a sophomore majoring in psychology, sounds doubtful she'll return to the water.

"It would be scary for me to play again because my brain is really important to me and I have plans for graduate school," she says. "Once I am cleared, I'm going to have to really examine if I'm willing to take that risk."

For those who decide to stick it out, they might be playing a game that could be significantly altered in the future. Arizona, for example, has considered eliminating kickoffs from high school football because of the dangers inherent when players collide with one another at top speeds.

Other organizations are relying on updated helmet technologies to try to prevent concussions. Although it's impossible to completely prevent head trauma in football, helmet manufacturer Riddell has, in the past 20 years, redesigned and released several types of helmets.

While parents, coaches, and athletes try to find the proper balance between athletic participation and long-term health, Natasha Helmick, who's studying at Texas State University to be an athletic trainer, is still experiencing depression and focus issues.

Natasha says she still hasn't moved past the disappointment of that day when Texas State decided to pull her athletic scholarship. "My doctor told me that I should never play a contact sport again in my life. He said, 'Don't even go out and shoot with friends. That's how endangered your head is.'"

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