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Doctors, Trainers Focused on Treating Concussions in Student Athletes

SACRAMENTO -- For many high school students across the country, playing football is a rite of passage. But concerns about brain trauma in young athletes are mounting.

When Chace Gallup started high school at Christian Brothers in Sacramento, he knew he wanted to play soccer and football.

On the field, he says, he finds friendship and learns how to face tough challenges.

"Dealing with adversity, overcoming, persevering, those kinds of things,” Gallup, now a senior, told FOX40.

But last December, the 17-year-old was forced to face a new type of challenge -- one he didn't expect.

"It was actually during soccer. I was running down the sideline, and I bumped into an opposing player. And that's pretty much all I remember,” he said. “I remember hitting the floor, and kind of getting up, but I don’t remember much after it.”

For Gallup, the details are foggy but he knows his trainers immediately pulled him from the game and asked him a series of questions.

"They just asked me questions about the day. They asked me the date, who we were playing, what time it was, what the state is where we were at," Gallup said.

He wasn’t able to answer everything. He was taken to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with a concussion.

It affected his ability to think and move.

"I just remember feeling a little groggy, a little bit sore the next day, the next couple days,” Gallup said. "It can happen from something as simple as banging your head at home, or it could happen when it's out on the playing field."

UC Davis sports medicine professor Brian Davis says, up until just a few years ago, a high school athlete suspected of having a concussion would likely get almost no treatment at all.

“If your symptoms cleared within 15 minutes, you got to go back in. That was the best that we knew,” Dr. Davis said. "This was very dangerous, now knowing what we do about the injuries that occur, and what the concern is long-term."

That concern is chronic traumatic encephalopathy, more commonly known as CTE.

Symptoms of CTE include mood swings, a decline in mental ability and suicidal thoughts.

CTE is generally only diagnosed after death but Davis says some of its symptoms can already be seen in young athletes.

"Unfortunately, some of those kids who are having concussions now can demonstrate those same kinds of behaviors. Difficulty with attention, difficulty with learning new information, still having issues with bright lights and sounds,” Davis said.

Every concussion, Davis says, is different.

Darci Calista, the head athletic trainer at Christian Brothers High School for the last 17 years, says as doctors learn more about brain trauma, they're changing the way student-athletes with concussions are treated.

"As soon as we have a suspected concussion, the athlete is immediately pulled from play. Practices, games, everything,” Calista said.

California state law says students with suspected concussions have to sit out for at least seven days and they must see their doctor.

At the Christian Brothers training facility, they take it a step further. Injured athletes undergo neurological testing, to see if they have any symptoms, like memory loss.

"When I wasn't feeling the symptoms anymore, we started again on the bike. And then after a couple days on the bike, I was able to have limited practices, and then full contact practices,” Gallup told FOX40. “And I was able to make my way back up to playing a game.”

It's a process that can take weeks or even months.

Calista says sometimes it’s the parents who want their kids back on the field, but the policy is designed to protect athletes.

“My job is to make sure your student athlete is safe. And so I know for parents it's hard to see your kid upset. And we do get some of that pushback. Like, 'He's fine, he`s fine. Just let him go back,' but we just don't let that happen anymore,” Calista said.

In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines for treating concussions in young athletes.

For Gallup, it took just over a month to recover but the wait was worth it.

"Playing football, I always thought about it. It’s kind of ironic I got it playing soccer, which is seen as not as competitive, not as physical sport,” Gallup said. “But I have a higher awareness of it now. I think about it.”

Now he’s back in the game, where he wants to be.