The traumatic brain injury occurred 17 months ago, a high school football linebacker banging his helmet into the hip of a ball-carrier. Then a senior at Olathe East, James McGinnis survived the collision, but his rehab process is ongoing. A return to normalcy isn’t a certainty.
In the ensuing months, his father, Patrick, has spent significant time delving into brain injury research, a quest that has provided more questions than answers.
“What I found out is it’s amazing how much is still unknown,” Patrick McGinnis said. “I look at it and sometimes question if a specialist should be the one seeing kids who have had (traumatic brain injuries), but I realize that’s probably not realistic in terms of numbers.”
The Kansas House took a step in a seemingly opposite direction Monday, when it passed a bill that would enable chiropractors to sign off on student-athletes returning to play after a head injury. The bill will next head to the Senate.
Missouri and Kansas legislatures enacted laws in 2011 that required high school athletes to have signed clearance from a medical doctor before returning to the field.
The bill Monday sparked an intense debate in the House in a time of heightened sensitivity to head injuries. The National Federation of State High School Associations estimates that 140,000 high school athletes suffer a concussion in any given year. The average athlete returns within two weeks after being diagnosed.
In Kansas, doctors use a lengthy return-to-play form as a checklist guideline.
“Could anyone follow that protocol? You could make the argument they could,” said Rachelle Colombo, director of government affairs for the Kansas Medical Society, which has voiced its opposition to the bill.
“But these are children being re-entered into their (sport), and we believe they should receive the highest quality of care. The focus of a chiropractor’s training is muscular, skeletal and anatomy, and that’s very different than physicians, who are trained on the whole spectrum, the entire body.”
The bill is supported by the Kansas Chiropractors Association. The chairman of its legislative committee, Travis Oller, says the bill would offer kids in rural Kansas — where he says there is a shortage of medical doctors — more options for care.
“We’re well-trained in the diagnosis of head injuries,” Oller said. “We do take full classes on neurology and the structure of the brain, spinal cord and nerves. We’re well-qualified to pick up on signs and treatment of concussions.”
The topic is particularly sensitive in Kansas, which has seen some serious football injuries over the past six years. Two high school football players have collapsed on the field and died — Spring Hill senior Nathan Stiles in 2010 and Shawnee Mission West senior Andre Maloney in 2013. McGinnis suffered his injury in 2014.
Stiles died from the re-bleed of an undetected subdural hematoma most likely suffered during a game four weeks earlier. He had been cleared by a medical doctor to return to play after a CT scan revealed he was healthy, and he no longer exhibited concussion symptoms.
“My biggest disappointment is my state representative didn’t call me. I guarantee they know Nathan’s story,” said Ron Stiles, Nathan’s father. “I would like to do my homework to see why they did this, but I don’t think it’s the right time to be lessening the guidelines.”
Patrick McGinnis, who said his wife has used a chiropractor to successfully treat migraines, had a similar response Tuesday.
“I think whoever is treating the patient, there needs to be some sort of certification in place that includes the latest procedures and processes,” McGinnis said. “The discussion needs to center on how to best treat the athletes — not how to get these guys back on the field.”