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Traumatic brain injury warning signs parents should look for

After a Georgia high school football player died after a brutal hit on the field, one brain expert shared these tips parents can look for while their child is playing.
(Photo: Thinkstock)

PIKE COUNTY, Ga. — A high school football player's death after a game is sending shock rippling through the state, as parents wonder how to protect their student-athletes.

Officials are still trying to comb through every detail of Friday night's game against Peach County High School that led to junior linebacker Dylan Thomas' death, but they still don't know what happened.

11Alive spoke to a brain doctor at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, who said while its likely Thomas suffered a traumatic brain injury, he stressed how rare a situation like this is.

RELATED | Pike Co. HS linebacker seriously injured in football game dies

Dr. Thomas Burns studies concussions and said most students will fully recover from a concussion within two weeks, whereas a traumatic brain injury can lead to life-long complications.

Burns said for a concussion, "You're sensitive to light, you might be nauseous, vomit, etc. or you're thinking a little fuzzy," Burns listed. "But those are common and they go away."

However, Burns noted a change in mental status can be a sign of something much worse. That includes slurred words, declining coordination, and loss of consciousness.

"They're having major headaches, they're disoriented, and it's getting worse," Burns warned. "It shouldn't be getting worse it should be getting better."

Burns said traumatic brain injuries are actually very difficult to diagnose because a brain bleed can look like a concussion until a few hours or even days later, when the symptoms start getting worse, not better.

Burns explained time is not on your side with a traumatic brain injury, and there is a specific window when to look for those worsening symptoms.

He explained that the number one way to protect young athletes is the relationship between the students and trainers. Children's has 40 athletic trainers at schools throughout the Atlanta area.

Pike County does not contract with Children's, but the district said they did have trained medical staff and EMTs on the sidelines of the field, a precaution that is not required under state law.

Burns explained trainers get to know what normal behavior is, how the student reacts, and when something is wrong. He added trainers are evaluating students minute-by-minute and know the warning signs to look for if a student takes a hit to the head.

MORE | This is the helmet a Pike County player was wearing when he took a deadly hit on the football field

Burns said injuries become much more dangerous if a player is put back in the game and suffers a second injury without knowing about the first. He advised any student who is suspected of having a concussion stay off the field for seven days.

But he cautioned for parents to stay calm when it comes to their kids participating in athletics.

"The easy thing to do is to do is to place your kid in bubble wrap and not let them do anything," Burns said. "But for high school kids who are driving, it's more likely they'll get a concussion hitting the windshield or the steering wheel than on the soccer field. So it's very difficult to say there is one thing you can't play. So it's much better to do education."

PHOTOS | Pike County High School's Dylan Thomas

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