An undetected brain injury turned deadly for a 16-year-old Georgia high school football player who complained of feeling unusual during a Sept. 28 game before he collapsed on the sidelines.
Dylan Thomas, a junior at Pike County High School and linebacker on its home team, the Pirates, took a hit during a play in the second quarter against Peach County High School. Some fellow players said Dylan seemed unfazed until into the third quarter when he said he wasn’t feeling right.
Head coach Brad Webber told reporters at an Oct. 1 news conference that the game was stopped in the third quarter as Dylan walked off the field.
Minutes later, as he sat on the bench, Dylan said his left arm and left leg were feeling numb. He then stopped talking and slumped off the bench unresponsive.
Within minutes, emergency responders were at the scene preparing Dylan for transport to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where doctors put him in a medically induced coma and worked to assess the brain injury. According to FOX 29 News, the injury caused Dylan’s brain to swell, likely as a result of bleeding.
Dylan never regained consciousness and died from his head injury on Sunday night.
According to The Washington Post, tapes of the game are being reviewed in an effort to pinpoint how Dylan sustained a traumatic brain injury during play. A review of the game didn’t reveal any overly aggressive hits or anything else unusual.
Football players and other athletes participating in brutal contact sports are at a high risk of a brain injury, despite safety rules and equipment intended to protect them. Concern about brain injuries exists at every level of the game from high school to the NFL, igniting debates about safety and whether children or even teens should even be allowed to participate.
In recent years, researchers have linked concussions and other forms of traumatic brain injury (TBI) to the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease common in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, in addition to other brain disorders.
According to The Washington Post, Coach Webber said in Monday’s press conference that he “still believes football is a safe sport, citing improved strength and conditioning regimens and the attention placed on safety equipment, namely helmets.” He also noted that Dylan was wearing a new Riddell SpeedFlex helmet, which he called “the best helmet … money can buy.”
But blows directly to the head are just one way that concussions and other brain injuries happen. A jolt to the head or neck that jostles the brain around inside the skull can happen just as easily to helmet-wearing athletes in any sport.
While injuries as severe as Dylan’s don’t occur often among football players, they aren’t rare. In fact, a similar incident occurred in Nashville the day after Dylan was injured in Georgia. Christian Abercrombie, a 20-year-old Tennessee State University sophomore from Georgia, fell unconscious during a game against Vanderbilt.
Mr. Abercrombie, a linebacker, was able to walk off the field and told the team’s trainers that he had a headache. Moments later, he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital where he underwent emergency surgery and remains in critical condition. He has not regained consciousness.
“It was just a football play,” Tennessee State Coach Rod Reed said Sunday on WNSR’s coaches radio show, according to the Washington Post. “He was taking on a block, and it wasn’t anything malicious or dirty or anything like that. Just an unfortunate situation.”