Zackery Lystedt Law
The toughest return-to-play law in the nation was signed in May 2009 by then-governor of Washington Christine Gregoire. The Zackery Lystedt Law (House Bill 1824) prohibits young athletes who were suspected of sustaining a concussion from returning to the game without the approval of a licensed healthcare provider.
Zackery Lystedt was a star football player at age 13 who was tackled near the end of the first half of a game on October 12, 2006. He immediately suffered a brain injury - he was rolling on the ground holding his head. Zackery was held back for the next three plays but was sent back out for the first play of the second half. About a minute after Zackery won the game, he fell to the ground and yelled that he was blind.
Zackery suffered a hemorrhage in his brain, and part of his skull had to be surgically removed in order to relieve the pressure. He was on life support for seven days and battled for years to relearn basic skills. It was nine months before Zackery could speak, 13 months before he could move his left arm and four years before he could move his right leg.
Tragically, Zackery's story is not unique. Millions of sports-related concussions occur each year in the United States, and many of these injuries are preventable. Concussions (mild traumatic brain injuries) are one of the most commonly reported injuries in children and adolescents who participate in sports, generally caused by a blow or motion to the head or body that causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull.
Furthermore, concussions have a range of severity and a multitude of symptoms. In Zackery Lystedt's case, the severity of injury was likely aggravated by his continued play after his concussion. Returning to the field without proper medical clearance puts athletes at risk of a rare but deadly medical condition called second-impact syndrome, in which a second concussion is sustained before the first one has healed.
The Lystedt Law
The Lystedt Law was groundbreaking legislation intended to prevent future injuries like Zackery's. Some of the key provisions of the law are as follows:
- Youth athletes who are suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury must be removed from play. "When in doubt, sit them out."
- Working together, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) and local school districts will develop policies and distribute information to educate coaches, players and parents about the risks and nature of concussion. This information must specifically include the dangers associated with returning to practice or competition following a head injury or concussion.
- All student athletes and their parents/guardians must read and sign an information sheet about concussion and head injury before the young athlete can begin to play. This must be done at the beginning of each sport season.
- Young athletes who have been removed from play must receive written medical clearance prior to returning to play from a licensed healthcare provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussion.
- Private, nonprofit sports organizations that wish to use play fields owned by the public must also follow the provisions set by this law.
Many experts have applauded the law for its beauty and simplicity. "This simple policy - which doesn't cost a thing for the state or any school district - will save lives," said Stanley A. Herring, M.D., FACSM, Chair of ACSM's Clinical Sports Medicine Leadership committee and one of the physicians involved with Zackery's care. "It's a win-win-win for young athletes, for schools, and for public health. The Lystedts have shown us all how one family can prevail over a devastating injury to effect change that has a real opportunity to save lives. This will do just that in Washington and in every other state that recognizes its value."
State Rep. Jay Rodne (R-North Bend) sponsored the law. Supporters of the Zackery Lystedt Law include:
- Zackery's parents, Victor and Mercedes Lystedt
- The Brain Injury Association of Washington
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control
- The Seattle Seahawks
- The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association
- The Washington State Youth Soccer Association
- The Washington State Athletic Trainers Association
- Cannfield & Associates Risk Managers
- Harborview Medical Center
- The University of Washington
- Seattle Children's Hospital
In the years since Zackery's case was resolved, similar laws have been passed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bottom line: Don't play hurt and don't try to "shake off" an injury to get back in the game. Seek medical attention instead.