Riley Shea loves football, but if he is to achieve his goals one day, having a strong and powerful mind will be far more important than his speed on the field.
Riley, a 12-year-old who plays wide receiver and safety for the Chelmsford Pop Warner D Team, isn’t interested in being the next New England Patriots star. Selected as a Pop Warner All-American for his academics and character, he dreams of being a radiologist. His mother, Linda, isn’t about to let a concussion derail that.
“The most important thing to me is Riley’s brain,” says Linda. “He’s really smart.”
The Sheas were reminded of that last October when Riley suffered a concussion on the playground after another boy’s knee accidentally hit him square in the head. Riley said it didn’t take long for him to realize it wasn’t just a little bump on the head.
I could feel it,” Riley says. “I knew something was wrong because I had a huge bump, and I had a headache all over.”
The symptoms of a concussion can vary from lightheadedness and a mild headache to terrible migraines and temporary memory loss. Doctors urge special precautions in the weeks, and even months, after a concussion to avoid the potentially devastating effects of a second brain injury during that time.
After Riley’s pediatrician diagnosed his concussion, he was instructed to take several weeks of time off the playground and the playing field to recover. For the first couple of weeks, Riley couldn’t “run, jump or do anything that would put his head in motion,” his mother says.
With that, his parents could have called for an end to his football career. But in some ways, his mother says, she feels he’s safer on the football field than in many of the other roughhouse activities kids his age enjoy.
That’s because Chelmsford Pop Warner puts safety first, from equipment to teaching proper tackling techniques. Each coach is trained in CPR and taught to recognize the signs of a concussion.
A grant from Circle Health is supporting these safety efforts, allowing the league to upgrade its helmets from what Chelmsford Pop Warner President Angela Dulac called “adequate,” to a helmet that is state-of-the-art in terms of safety.
“Adequate isn’t enough for me,” Dulac says. “We could have gone on the lower end for helmets, but I have to sleep at night knowing all these kids are safe.”
Circle Health has also donated first aid kits, sponsored uniforms and even brought New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung out to talk to the players. Dulac calls the club’s work with Circle Health “a great partnership.”
“I’m very thankful to Circle Health,” she says. “They’ve always come through for us.”