An Undetected Concussion of a Young Boy Stirs Talk in the NFL
A brain injury changed the life of a 13 year old, and still struggles five years later. The victim, Zack Lystedt went back into his middle school football after suffering a concussion that went undetected. He was hurt while making a tackle and collapsed after the game. He needed two emergency brain surgeries to survive.
Due to this life altering concussion, a new law named “Lysdtedt Law” passed in the state of Washington in 2009 stating that high school athletes and younger need to have doctor’s authorization before returning to the playing field after a concussion is suspected.
Lystedt stepped out of his wheel chair at the White River Amphitheater and walked with a cane to accept his high school diploma from Tahoma High School.
The 18-year-old has been an influential figure raising awareness of concussion in the U.S. All sports are paying closer attention to the safety of players.
The Lystedt Law was a movement for his parents Victor and Mercedes and physicians who treated him and vowed to prevent similar head injuries from happening to other young athletes.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has joined the charge.
"Zack's courage has inspired me on both a personal and professional level," Goodell said. "His grace and dignity motivate us as a league to continue the push to protect youth athletes from head injuries."
Goodell and Lystedt met for the first time at an event for the Brain Injury Association of Washington, where Goodell made the promise to help get a law similar to Washington's passed in at least 10 states in the next year. Goodell sent letters to state leaders asking for more focus on youth head injuries before even meeting Lystedt.
Since October, 15 states have implemented youth concussion legislation, bringing the total to 23, with legislation in four more states awaiting a governor's signature. Twenty-one of the 23 follow the tenor of the Lystedt Law, with Idaho and Wyoming the only exceptions since their laws do not require removal from competition or medical clearance to return to play.
The importance of concussion education has become viral. In fact, the next version of EA Sports' popular "Madden" franchise will incorporate players suffering from concussions and the announcers explaining the seriousness of the injury.
Lystedt spent three months in the hospital immediately after his injury. Nine months passed before he could utter a word and he spent another year at a neuro-rehabilitation center.
His mother is now a full-time caregiver, bringing her son to 30 to 40 hours of therapy, physical, occupational and speech, every week.
The right side of his body drags, his speech is slow and slightly slurred and he struggles with short-term memory loss.
"His short-term memory has been affected so much from his brain injury that ... it's very difficult to learn," Victor Lystedt said. "You have to get it to his long-term. Once you get locked into his long-term he's good to go."
He attended one class per week at Tahoma High School during the 2009-10 school year. This helped him to adjust to social aspects of school during brain recovery. He slowly spent more time in class around his rehabilitation schedule.
Lystedt was named Homecoming King this year.
Lystedt completed two graduation requirements mandated by the state, passing the Washington Assessment of Student Learning and completed a senior project. He plans to take a few classes at Bellevue College starting in the fall and will move into a new custom-built house that caters to the Lystedts' needs for caring for their son.
Lystedt has taken 200 steps at one time with his cane and can walk the length of his garage without help. The boy sees running in his future.
Only in the last year have Lystedt and his father become interested in football since the brain injury accident. His relationships with Goodell and the NFL’s interest in promoting the Lystedt Law have alleviated some of the initial resentment toward the sport.
"He is really, really nice. A really, really good person," Lystedt said of Goodell. "You can tell he really cares."