HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut lawmakers are considering ways to raise public awareness of dangerous medical conditions that have afflicted student athletes: concussions and cardiac arrests.
The General Assembly's Committee on Children heard testimony Thursday on legislation that would expand the state's 2010 concussion prevention law, including limiting the amount of time spent in practices for contact sports to 90 minutes a week.
The committee also heard feedback on a proposal to require that state public health and education officials develop an awareness education program for parents and coaches about the dangers of sudden cardiac events among youth participating in intramural or interscholastic athletics.
Victor Pena's son Andy was a month away from his 15th birthday when he died in 2011 after running on a treadmill. Pena said he was unaware that his son, a Darien High School junior, had suffered from chronic myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. He said he wants to make sure people are more aware of sudden cardiac arrest and its signs, and that they know what to do in case someone's heart suddenly stops beating.
He said there was no one trained to assist his son after he collapsed on a treadmill in a Boston hotel gym following a swim meet. "He may have survived if there wasn't a delay in helping him," Pena said.
State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, the committee's co-chairman, said legislators understand that athletics are part of the fabric of Connecticut culture. But she said they want to make sure parents are fully aware of what their children are engaging in.
In 2010, Connecticut became one of the first states to enact concussion-related legislation, requiring anyone with a state permit to coach intramural or interscholastic sports to receive periodic training about recognizing and treating concussions. The law also required any student sidelined for a suspected concussion to get medical clearances to return to play.
But Paul Slager, an attorney from Ridgefield who specializes in brain injury cases and is a past president of the Brain Injury Alliance of Connecticut, said other states have since passed more comprehensive legislation to protect student athletes.
"We have now fallen woefully behind other states," he told lawmakers.
Besides limiting practice time, the bill would require the State Board of Education to develop a concussion education plan, and require the operators of youth athletic activities to provide information on concussions to youth athletes and their parents.
The bill also requires local and regional school boards to report all instances of concussions suffered by students.
Dr. Robert Cantu, the co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine and an adviser to the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee, said young people, especially under the age of 14, are particularly vulnerable to brain trauma.
"When the young brain is violently shaken, the fibers can be torn apart more easily," he said, adding how even sub-concussive blows can lead to chronic brain damage.