My wife, Lisa, and I were invited to attend President Obama’s Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit at the White House today, May 29. We were invited for several reasons, including our passion, advocacy and commitment to making sports safer for all children. We lost our younger son, Matthew, after he sustained a traumatic brain injury during a high school football game in 2008.
We were honored to be included in the Concussion Summit and hope the President’s support will raise awareness about sports-related brain injuries and save the lives of injured children across the U.S. Critical injury to children is a deeply personal issue for us, and I recently made the difficult decision to leave the corporate world to become the executive director of the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma.
I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce myself and explain one of the Institute's projects as it relates to the President's Concussion Summit today. As you may know, the Childress Institute was founded in 2008 through the generosity of NASCAR team owner Richard Childress and his wife Judy. The Institute helps fund research and medical education to improve the treatment for critically injured children in the U.S., including an ongoing study to measure head impacts in youth football. Recently published results from that study found that in high school players a single season of football can produce brain MRI changes in the absence of a diagnosed concussion. The researchers demonstrated that these impact-related changes in the brain have a strong association with a post-season change in cognitive function.
More than 70 percent of the football players in the United States are under age 14, so more research is needed to study the effect of repeated blows to the head in young players. Many great organizations are working to prevent injuries, yet not all accidents can be prevented and traumatic injuries continue to account for more childhood deaths than all other causes combined.
Matthew’s legacy lives on in many ways and you can view more of our story here. On and off the football field, Matthew was frequently heard saying “I won’t let you down.” By honoring Matthew’s memory, we hope we are keeping his promise.
- Robert J. “Bob” Gfeller, Jr., executive director of the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma