HARVEY, La. -- Roughly a year and a half after suffering a concussion while playing lacrosse, Nate Geller has so little balance he has trouble walking a straight line, heel to toe, for his doctor in Harvey.
His mom Eileen said Nate was playing lacrosse at school in the Seattle area when a big defender whacked him over the head as he headed to the goal with the ball.
“Nate went down, he got dizzy, stood up,” Eileen Geller said. “He got dizzy and fell down again.”
“I remember getting up and falling down, and then attempting to play the game,” Nate Geller said.
Nate was wearing a helmet when it happened, but Eileen Geller said he still got a big bump on his head and was dazed afterward.
She said the next day Nate had an intense headache and other serious symptoms.
“He was really not able to walk very much. He couldn't really talk. His brain didn't work to think,” Eileen Geller said. “He couldn't write. His eyesight was so severe, he couldn't read unless it was one or two inches on an iPad. Then he couldn't really remember what he was reading.”
His vision was especially disturbing.
“I have, like, a teeny tunnel this big and the rest is blurry and spinning,” Nate Geller said.
Nate said a video, which you can watch above, gives an idea of how his vision was affected. But he said for him everything around that center that's in focus was spinning.
“Concussion is definitely something that is more of an issue, more of a concern, for a child because their brain is still in the process of growing and developing,” said Brigid Deloach of the Brain Injury Association of Louisiana.
A growing body of research finds that children playing contact sports can face a serious risk of brain injury from hard hits to the head.
“These kids are pretty fast. They hit hard, and their head is such a big part of their body almost every impact is helmet to helmet,” said researcher Dr. Stefan Duma of Virginia Tech University.
In his research, Duma hooked up multiple sensors in the helmets of eight kids playing youth football. He said generally the impacts amounted to the equivalent of an aggressive pillow fight.
But he said about 30 hits - mostly in practice - were much harder.
“And these are getting into the range of concussions and something we need to pay close attention to,” Duma said.
In another study of adult boxers, Dr. Charles Bernick finds brain damage varies widely among individuals, but can occur even without a concussion.
“And the implication is that damage in the brain is actually starting years before you have changes, clinical changes,” Bernick said.
A year ago, Louisiana adopted the Youth Concussion Act to make sure parents are informed of the risks.
Coaches like Derrick Henderson of the New Orleans Recovery School District are also trained to recognize concussions, and how to respond.
Henderson said he would take a player out of the game if he expected a concussion.
“He has to be cleared from his doctor,” Henderson said.
“These kids can actually hit hard enough to get accelerations that we need to be concerned about,” Duma said.
Nate is a walking example of the devastating consequences of a concussion can be. He went to a series of doctors before his family found out about the hyperbaric treatment that Dr. Paul Harch offers in Harvey.
“It's the use of increased levels of oxygen, greater than atmospheric pressure oxygen, intermittently as a drug to treat basic disease processes,” Harch said.
“In just, like, 20 days I was able to walk in a straight line,” Nate said. “It felt great.”
Nate said 80 treatments later, his symptoms are going away.
As his mother drove him over the Mississippi after a treatment one day, he told his Mom he could even see better.
“I could tell the difference between a small car and an SUV,” he said.
Harch says Nate is not cured, but his prognosis is good.
“He may regain a substantial amount of function to where he will be productive and healthy and be able to live a good life,” Harch said.