East Stadium renovation puts UNL at the center of concussion research
By Ryan Mueksch, NewsNetNebraska
September 24, 2004. Friday night. Football night. Rivalry night between Lincoln East and Lincoln Southeast. A night Brady Beran can’t remember, and can’t forget.
After a Southeast touchdown in the 3rd quarter, Beran is on the kickoff return, running full steam. In a split second, his life is completely altered.
Beran suffers a helmet-to-helmet collision, goes down for a minute, but is then able to walk off to the sideline.
Once on the sideline, he collapsed immediately, completely unconscious and unresponsive.
After being taken in an ambulance to Bryan West Trauma Center, doctors noticed a significant amount of bleeding in his brain. When Beran’s parents asked if their son would make it out of surgery, the doctor replied, “I don’t know.”
Beran’s story made national news. Now, football in Lincoln is making national news in a different way.
In about two months, the East Stadium renovation inside Memorial Stadium is expected to be completed. In a football-crazed town, most will focus on the 6,000 seats being added inside the stadium as the best part of the renovation. To Beran, it’s the $5 million facility inside the stadium devoted to brain and concussion research that excites him the most.
“We’re going to save lives, from families having heartaches like what happened to me,” Beran said.
UNL’s collaboration between athletics and academics will expand our understanding of the brain and concussions, while also enhancing health and performance research using cutting-edge technology.
“I see the university as really leading a national effort,” said Dennis Molfese, director of the new Brain, Biology, and Behavior Center inside the stadium. “We’ll be dealing with a level of collaboration here that’s unprecedented in this country or in any other country.”
Sixteen brain imagining techniques will highlight the research being done inside the roughly 25,000 square foot facility.
“We’ll have some really incredible, unique facilities here,” Molfese said. “What we hope to find is better ways to identify concussions, as soon as they occur, or shortly after.”
The CDC estimates that 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions occur each year. Researchers hope that finding better ways to prevent concussions will reduce that number in years to come.
Five to ten percent of athletes will experience a concussion in any given sport season, the CDC estimates, but football is the most common sport with concussion risk for males at a 75 percent chance.
These numbers have gotten the attention of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. In an effort to reduce the number of head injuries that occur in the NFL, the $9 billion league has implemented major rule changes the past three years.
One rule change to the 2013 season will be a 15-yard penalty for a player who strikes the opponent with the crown of their helmet, something seen fairly often among running backs with a “running downhill” mentality.
Players have been penalized not only on the field, but also in their checkbooks. Fines for illegal hits to the head have ranged from $10,000 to $75,000.
This past NFL season, 170 different concussions or head injuries were documented, with running backs accounting for nearly one in nine concussions.
The 170 concussions and head injuries during the season represents an 84 percent increase over those listed on the injury reports in 2009, with a chance that there were some injuries that went undocumented, especially if a team was on its bye week.
Concussions have been a concern in college football too, prompting rule changes from the NCAA as well.
UNL senior linebacker Sean Fisher was lucky enough to be a part of the minority of players who didn’t suffer a concussion in his career, at least to his knowledge.
The pre-med student will graduate from UNL in May with a 4.0 GPA.
Fisher says he believes the game will continue to improve in terms of safety but doesn’t envision a huge shift in overall changes in gameplay.
“The more research and more awareness we can bring to players, the better,” Fisher said. “Collectively we tend to be a hard-headed group so I don’t know if you’re ever going to get to a point where guys are going to be willingly pulling themselves out of a game.”
This season, UNL made a serious push to educate the Husker football team about the dangers of a concussion and encourage the student-athletes to get involved in research. A special research team was brought in to analyze players, according to Fisher. Through this research, players had a better understanding of what precautionary steps to take if they did suffer a head injury.
Although Fisher said he’s never been knocked unconscious during a game, the most violent hit he suffered was during his senior year of high school, a hit that caused the linebacker to process information slower in the second half. The game seemed “foggy and almost surreal,” he said.
Despite this, Fisher stayed in the game, something he said looking back on probably shouldn’t have happened. This hit never caused him to question to continue playing the game, even if one serious concussion in the future could potentially affect his ability to pursue a medical career.
“I don’t think during the course of the game that’s something you ever think about,” Fisher said. “You’re pretty focused on what you need to do athletically and not think outside about your long term career. It’s something that if I was at home reflecting on it’s hard not to think about those kind of things.”
It was this doctor’s first night on call at the hospital. The doctor had done this surgery three times before and each time the patient did not make it out.
Beran was given a ten percent chance of survival.
Five weeks in a coma and four major surgeries later, Beran awakened.
“I wasn’t able to walk, talk, read, and even eat,” Beran said. “It took five people just to get me to relearn how to walk.”
Beran had gone from 185 pounds to 136 pounds. He doesn’t remember his junior year of high school.
Once a 4.0 student, Beran struggled to read at a kindergarten level.
Fast forward nine years and Beran is now a UNL graduate, working in Lincoln with Back to the Bible, a worldwide Christian ministry. Beran also has many speaking engagements about concussion awareness and is thrilled to see Lincoln at the epicenter of this research. Beran said it was the prayers from the Lincoln community on that September night that saved his life.
“Today isn’t just good, OK, or fine. Today is great, amazing and fantastic,” Beran said.