In basketball, loose balls can help a team gain possession, score points and win games. Every basketball team practices loose-ball drills. They are, in essence, the difference between a win and a loss. Any player will tell you they are a chance to impact the game.
Faith VanBecelaere found out the hard way they can be dangerous, too, during a loose-ball drill last year at practice at St. Mary’s Colgan High School in Pittsburg.
“I slipped and hit a brick wall,” says Faith, now a sophomore. “I was instantly dizzy and even saw stars. I tried to stand up and I couldn’t. Coach called practice off as soon as it happened. I had an immediate headache.”
Faith’s mother, Annette, is a registered nurse at Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg and immediately was concerned about her daughter’s signs of head injury.
Luckily, though, Faith already was ahead of the game for diagnosis and treatment. Before the 2012-13 season, she took an ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) assessment. The test, provided by a grant through the Mount Carmel Foundation at the Hospital in Pittsburg, gives physicians a computerized baseline score of brain reaction times and comprehension skills before a student athlete is at risk of a concussion.
After Faith hit her head in practice, Annette says, “We consulted with our family physician, Dr. Jim McDaniel, who’s a great supporter of the ImPACT test. He said we could evaluate Faith in the coming weeks by using it.”
The test is taken at a computer, measuring the speed in which a student athlete can complete certain tasks.
“There are different shapes that appear in five seconds, and you have to remember the sequence,” Faith explains. “Then there are five letters. Then the test goes back to the shapes, you put those in order, then the letters return, and you have to put those in order.”
Sounds simple enough. Except by comparing the baseline score to scores after an incident, the ImPACT test helps a physician determine if the brain may have suffered an injury where a teenager should not return to the court.
“The first time I took it, it was easy, it felt like first-grade math,” Faith says of her preseason test. “The second time (after the head injury), I had such a hard time I couldn’t remember the patterns. I was really shocked.”
“Years ago a kid that had that kind of injury would have been playing, or trying to play, the next week,” Annette says. “But now we know we can’t do that, we can’t put our children in that kind of jeopardy.”
Faith’s concussion was serious. She took an ImPACT test each week for five weeks until she was cleared to play. Even after missing a month of playing time, Faith realizes the benefits of the ImPACT test.
“Dr. McDaniel said how the ImPACT test would help show my progress as it calculated the differences between each test,” Faith says. “In my opinion, it’s a great test. It can be very frustrating, but I now know how important this test is when it comes to being back on the court and feeling healthy.”