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Originally published Wednesday, March 11, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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State lawmakers approve concussion bills for young athletes

The state Legislature has passed bills aimed at preventing traumatic brain injuries among young athletes.

Seattle Times staff reporter

OLYMPIA — Zackery Lystedt's last words to his father before falling silent for nine months: "Dad, I can't see."

The 13-year-old junior-high football player had chased a runner into the end zone and tumbled headfirst into the ground. The collision kept him on the sidelines for 15 minutes. But he went back into the game.

Shortly after forcing a fumble that secured his team a win, Lystedt collapsed and told his father he couldn't see. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors had to operate on his hemorrhaging brain.

The state House and Senate have each passed separate bills aimed at preventing the kind of traumatic brain injury the Maple Valley teenager suffered while playing football in October 2006. To become law, the bills must be reconciled and then sent to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature.

The legislation, informally known as the Zackery Lystedt law, would prohibit young athletes who show signs of having sustained a concussion from returning to play without a licensed health-care provider's approval. It would be the country's strictest return-to-play requirement for athletes under 18 suspected of having a concussion.

"If my child would have been taken out of the game after he suffered his concussion he wouldn't be the way he is today," said Lystedt's father, Victor Lystedt. "He would be able to function like a normal 16-year-old."

Today, Lystedt is in a wheelchair, can talk and see again and is regaining strength in his left leg and left foot.

Richard Adler, a lawyer for the Lystedt family and president of the Brain Injury Association of Washington, said standards are in place to remove players who show signs of a concussion, but they aren't uniformly implemented.

The Lystedt family has filed a claim against the Tahoma School District over the incident.

"Somebody has to set the standard, and I'd rather set the standard too high than too low," said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.

Symptoms of a concussion include confusion, personality changes, dizziness, unconsciousness, memory loss, headache, nausea and sensitivity to light or noise.

The new law would require parents and young athletes to sign a concussion and head-injury information form. Teams can choose to have a volunteer or paid licensed medical trainer on the sidelines ready to evaluate players in case of head injury. For teams that can't provide an expert on site, players would be required to visit a health-care provider and receive written clearance before returning.

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The Senate bill passed Monday, with only one senator voting no. The similar House version passed unanimously last week. Because the bills differ in some language, a compromise version must pass both houses before being sent to the governor.

The Washington Youth Soccer Association, which represents nearly 350,000 athletes, coaches, referees, parents and volunteers, supports the proposal.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says as many as 3.8 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur every year. Brain injury is the leading cause of sports-related deaths and accounts for 65 to 95 percent of fatalities in football, according to the Sports Concussion Institute.

The one senator who voted against the bill, Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls, said he was concerned about who would be held liable for deciding whether to remove athletes from play. The proposed law does not address consequences for those who disobey the new rules.

Last week, Zackery Lystedt was invited onto the state House floor to witness the vote. Rep. Jay Rodne, R-North Bend, the bill's prime sponsor, said though Lystedt may never play football again, his legacy will be in statute forever. Lystedt's father said he was deeply touched by that message.

"I've shed so many tears in my life, but to hear Rep. Rodne say that, and to know that there is going to be a positive meaning from this experience, it's an honor to be my son's dad," he said.

On Monday, upon hearing the Senate bill had passed, too, Victor Lystedt celebrated by cooking his son steak and crab for dinner, with Dairy Queen Blizzards for dessert.

"We get small little steps for our child getting better, but this is a huge step for the educational needs of parents, coaches and kids," he said.

Material from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Chantal Anderson: 360-236-8266 or canderson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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