Kylee Bliss let the basketball fly just before the buzzer.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Swish! Her three-pointer at the end of the third quarter tightened the game for her Blue Valley High School junior varsity team.
She always loved having the ball in her hands at crunch time.
But 10 months later, she cant recall that moment.
I did that? Kylee asked after listening to her mother, Ginger Bliss, describe the play. Wow. I dont remember, but OK.
Kylee doesnt remember because a few minutes later she took a hard elbow to the nose, fell back and smacked her head on the floor. She had a concussion, her second in two months.
And because the first concussion wasnt properly identified, the second has changed her life.
Kylees basketball career is over, but thats the least of the familys concerns. Now 16, she doesnt go to school in the first hour because of all the commotion in the hallways, and attending sporting events is out because of the overstimulation. In class, she must have test questions read aloud, and she can only do schoolwork in short segments before needing a break.
Her headaches can become so severe that even on a recent short drive home from a friends house, Kylee had to stop, call her mom and be picked up. Time in class is often confusing, too.
I can sit there for an hour and have no clue what was talked about, Kylee said. Just sitting there doesnt work. I can take notes or I can listen. I can do one or the other.
To speak to Kylee, the impairment isnt obvious. Nobody can tell her if shell ever feel as she did before the head trauma, but its likely she will always have headaches. Medication will control the bad ones.
Her family wants her to feel as happy and healthy as she was before, but there are no guarantees she will ever regain all of her former cognitive ability.
We continue to be hopeful, Ginger said, but progress has been very slow and frustrating to her.
During the course of Kylees treatment, the Bliss family learned about a growing and alarming trend in concussions.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, female high school athletes who participate in some of the most popular sports offered to both sexes basketball, soccer and softball/baseball are twice as likely to suffer concussions as boys.
Gender differences in head size and neck strength are a factor, and girls are typically more likely to report an injury. Soccer, basketball, lacrosse and cheerleading were the sports with the highest rates of concussions, and the risk of long-term damage in young athletes increases because their brains are still developing.
The family is doing all it can now to help Kylee, but she and her mom want to do something more. They want to share their story.
It is difficult to tell because it involves mistakes and painful regret. Kylee wasnt honest about her symptoms after her first concussion, and Ginger was advised at a team meeting for parents about concussion testing as a precautionary measure but never followed up.
Ive blamed myself every day since it happened, Ginger said.
She shouldnt. While concussion news has become an almost daily staple, one thing were learning is how little we know about cases of sports-related head trauma and how common they are. There is even debate about the effectiveness of the testing.
The recent experience of Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn especially resonated with Kylee. He was hit in the head after a scramble during a first-quarter play Oct. 28 against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. Quinn later said he lost some vision following that play, but he stayed in the game and again got hit hard after completing a pass.
He returned to the field for the next possession and was sacked. But the rusher didnt come from Quinns blind side. He should have avoided the collision, but he didnt see it coming. The possession ended with Quinn throwing an interception, and he left the game for good.
Later, Quinn admitted that he suffered a concussion during the Chiefs preseason game at Green Bay and that he was reluctant to come out of the Raiders game because he didnt want to miss the opportunity to play. His start the previous week at Tampa Bay had offered him his first snap in a regular-season NFL game in three years.
Likewise, Kylee hated the thought of missing any action. Basketball was her passion.
When tryouts arrived in November 2011, Kylee, then a sophomore, desperately wanted to make the Tigers varsity team. She knew it would be a long shot, but being selected for the junior varsity would be a nice consolation prize especially if she got to dress for some varsity games.
On the first day of tryouts, Kylee knocked heads with another player. She went to the sideline dazed and nauseated, had a powerful headache and couldnt recall her telephone number or locker combination. Her father was summoned to pick her up.
Kylee saw a doctor, who ordered complete brain rest no television, texting or even reading until the symptoms subsided. She was also asked to record her symptoms daily, filling out a checklist to evaluate her recovery process.
Kylee completed the task, but not honestly.
It asked how bad were the symptoms, how bad my headaches were and how frequently they were happening, she said, and I definitely underreported them every time.
I didnt want to be that person who whines and complains. Thats never been me. Im going to move on and do what you have to do.
She missed school, but she was allowed to take her finals after the holiday break. Always an excellent student, Kylee failed those exams, but the explanation that missed class time was too much to overcome seemed plausible. But the headaches and dizziness never went away.
What she was telling us was all we had to go on, Ginger said.
Not knowing of Kylees ongoing struggles, Ginger allowed her daughter to return to competition after the holidays.
During a game in February, several players were involved in a scramble for the ball, and Kylee got up holding what hurt the most: her nose.
She went to the bench for a few minutes, then said she was ready to go back into the game. With less than a minute remaining, Kylee drove to the basket and was fouled. Her team trailed by one, and Kylee loved these moments. Game on the line, ball in her hand. But something was wrong.
She stepped to the free throw line and took the ball, ready to shoot. Dribble. Dribble. She looked up.
I couldnt see the basket, Kylee said.
She did the best she could, shooting at where she thought the basket was, but she missed both shots. After the game, she didnt remember attempting the free throws or anything else that happened in the final moments including that big three-pointer she made earlier in the game.
Kylee emerged from the locker room in tears, knowing that her season was over and that her problem was more serious than she had ever let on.
There may have been another way to determine the severity of Kylees head injury.
Before the season, parents of players on the team were told about a software tool called ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Training). Its a company with more than 7,000 clients at all sports levels that offers a computerized exam that measures memory, reaction time and concentration and establishes a baseline for young athletes in each of those categories.
When a head injury occurs, the test is retaken and a doctor or trainer interprets the results to determine when its safe to return. Each test takes about 20 minutes to complete.
Such testing isnt part of the physical examination that all prospective athletes must undergo before the school year, but in recent years it has become more readily available.
We try to get the word out that testing will happen at these locations on certain days, said Richard Bechard, athletic and activities director for the Blue Valley School District.
When Ginger received that information a year ago, she read it over and made a mental note to follow up. She never did.
Ill always regret that, Ginger said.
But declining an opportunity to take the test isnt unusual, and there is some debate in the sports medicine world about the effectiveness of testing.
Were not certain what to make of those tests, said Greg Canty, a physician and medical director for the Center of Sports Medicine at Childrens Mercy Hospital. Some think the marketing is far ahead of the actual proof behind the testing.
In August, an ESPN report found that the majority of studies evaluating ImPACT were written by the researchers who created and were profiting from it.
Still, testing has its supporters. A year ago, Blue Valley High principal Scott Bacon didnt test his twin football-playing sons in the preseason. This year he did, and when one of his sons, Tyler, came home from a football practice complaining of a raging headache, the test comparing results to his baseline was retaken.
He wasnt close to reaching his baseline, Bacon said.
A week later, however, he was.
To me, instead of asking how he was or looking for clues in his eyes, there was definitive data to inform us, Bacon said. Last year it was all pretty new to us. I hadnt heard of it before. Now Im a very staunch proponent of testing.
Kylees desire to play through pain after her first injury is all too common.
Its the tough part about sports, Canty said. All the kids want to get back to play.
From the time she first hit her head until sometime after the second blow, Kylee didnt know she had a concussion or frankly what one was.
I didnt take it seriously, she said.
That helps to explain why alarms didnt go off immediately when the second one occurred. But things started adding up to Ginger. Kylee didnt fail her exams because of missed class time she couldnt read and comprehend. And she probably was feeling a little better over the holiday break. There was no school, no class change or lunchroom commotion.
Adjustments were made for the rest of the spring semester. Kylee could take and finish only two classes last spring. She completed another over the summer, working online with the help of a tutor. She had physical and speech therapy twice a week over the summer to ease her neck pain and help restore order in her brain.
This semester, Kylee takes four classes, with breaks in between, and goes to the nurses office when the headaches become too painful. Three or four times a week, she is in the main office to retrieve the combination to her locker. Focus in class remains a challenge.
She wants to take the ACT, but accommodations will be required because focusing for a few hours is impossible.
High school basketball season has started now, and this might have been a big year for Kylee. Instead, she and her mom can only hope to make a different kind of contribution.
Any athlete who is a competitor is going to make the decision I did and go back and play, regardless of what anybody else says, Kylee said. But I hope because of what Im going through, people would think twice about this and not make the same decision I did.
Parents, teachers, coaches, trainers kids sometimes dont believe them when it comes to decisions like this, but they really do know and care.
Get the test, she advised fellow parents, and impress upon children the importance of being honest about their injuries and not rush back into playing before they are truly healed.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.