West York athlete relives concussion

Patrick Strohecker
West York's Anton Johnson (6) suffered a concussion playing JV football in 2014 and missed nearly two months of school trying to recover from symptoms.

Anton Johnson was just one of more than 1.1 million high school athletes who participated in football in 2014.

By the end of the season, he was also part of the rapidly growing number of high school athletes who have suffered a concussion from playing a contact sport.

Johnson suffered the first diagnosed concussion of his life.

From what Johnson could remember about the moment, it played out something like this: It was the final week of the junior varsity football season and Johnson was the quarterback for West York. He took off running, and when he was slowed up, he was picked up from behind and slammed onto the back of his head. After that, things get fuzzy, but he can remember the dizziness that ensued, making it difficult to even stand up.

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"I tried to get up to go to the sideline and everything was really unsteady, so I had to take a few seconds," he recalled. "Then I just lied back down, or got on a knee, or something, because I just wasn't feeling right, and then I got up and walked back to the sideline the best that I could.”

After a few minutes kneeling and lying on the field, Johnson was helped to the sideline, where he spent the rest of the game. Fortunately for Johnson, it was the final week of the football season, so he wouldn't miss any playing time recovering from his head injury. However, the next couple of months were difficult on the then-sophomore. He would soon realize the difficulties that immediately follow and linger from a head injury.

"It was hard to concentrate": Doing school work quickly became an issue for Johnson.

For the next six to eight weeks, Johnson did very little outside of sleep. It was all he really had the desire to do.

"It was just a lot of sleep and rest," he said. "I didn't really feel like doing anything and my energy just wasn't there, so I slept a lot."

When he wasn't sleeping, he was taking weekly trips to OSS Health to undergo the ImPACT concussion baseline testing, usually without much success the first few times he took it.

"They would run a diagnostic test on my symptoms, then they would give me the go-ahead to go back to school or try different things," Johnson said. "But for the first six appointments, I wasn't really able to do much. I kept failing the same tests, so there was just a lot of sleep and rest."

The hurried walking between classes, bright lights of the classrooms and intense use of his brain during learning periods made attending a full day of school virtually impossible.

"It was hard to concentrate," he said.

Despite needing nearly two months to recover from his concussion last season, Anton Johnson (6) was back playing football this year for West York.

Finally, when Johnson did return to school on a full-time basis, it wasn't without more struggles. Missing six to eight weeks of school is essentially missing half a semester, or an entire marking period of the school year.

By the time Johnson returned, he was so far behind on his work, he was forced to work overtime to catch up. However, when he did catch up on whatever he was behind on, the next stack of late work began to pile up, creating a never-ending cycle of playing catch-up.

"Trying to go back to school, that was kind of frustrating," he said. "Because I was missing so much, so I couldn't catch up all the way, and then I would try and catch up and then I'd miss another week of school, so I got really behind.”

The numbers: According to statistics provided by Dr. Mark Lavallee of WellSpan Health, a team of athletic trainers, sports medicine doctors, orthopedic physicians, neurologists and physical therapists treated 2,466 concussions in high school athletes in 2014. That figure was determined through an algorithm that the team created to triage concussion patients. Johnson was part of that figure.

Fortunately for Johnson, with his concussion coming in the final game of the season, there was no real urgency for him to get back on the field. For many high school athletes who play contact sports, there is a rush to get back to action before a concussion is fully healed, leading to more severe dangers.

"Some of the head injuries that we get with youngsters can be catastrophic and can cause death, like second-impact syndrome is deadly," Lavallee said. "It can kill kids. So, you get your second concussion before the first one resolves and that causes a confusion in the vascular system and blood flow into the brain area, and it herniates, and it's horrible."

In the year since suffering his concussion, Johnson said he hasn't felt any post-concussion symptoms, except for when he rapidly stands up, leading him to get dizzy for a few moments. Johnson also didn't have any reservations about continuing his football career, despite his head injury, going out for the West York football team this past fall, where he served as a backup quarterback and linebacker on the varsity team.

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com