Barnabas Health Program Screens Young Athletes in NJ for Head Trauma

By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
NJ Today

Ryne Dougherty loved football and life, but the 16-year-old Montclair High School student’s promising future came to an abrupt end in 2008 after he suffered a brain hemorrhage in a game. A memorial at the school athletic field pays tribute to him.

“After Ryne’s passing, my life finished completely,” said Dougherty’s mother Marinalva Schnarr.

His grieving parents believe he should not have been allowed to return to the game because he had previously had a concussion.

“We shouldn’t be playing a game where this death can happen, especially in the schools when the kids are younger,” said Dougherty’s step-dad William Schnarr.

Professional athletes like New York Giants football player David Diehl know firsthand the potential dangers in any contact sport.

“I’ll never forget the first time I played football when the helmet didn’t fit me and they ended up cutting the pads in order for me to put my helmet on and for me to play. Those days are long gone and it’s very important to get the screening and most importantly the return-to-play protocol for each and every one of these athletes ,” Diehl said.

“I think the participation is much higher. The aggressiveness of the sport tends to lead into the possibility of concussions so I think having these young athletes have a baseline study is very important. And then being able to follow them and see if and when they have concussions and treat it properly. It is such a big, big thing,” said Dr. John Shumko, medical director of Barnabas Health Morahan Center.

The Matthew J. Morahan III Center has screened 7,000 young athletes across the state to check for head trauma or cardiac issues. Officials say the free or low-cost program will be expanded statewide to all Barnabas Health satellite facilities.

“If someone has a concussive event, that person needs to go through a very well designed protocol to determine whether that individual can return to play. That’s precisely the focal point of our screening those who have had concussions. I hope that with our training, and as we train the trainers and they train the trainers, we’ll be able to screen out any of these episodes from happening again,” said Barnabas Health President and CEO Barry Ostrowsky.

To help prevent another tragedy, federal lawmakers have reintroduced a bill called the Concussion Treatment and Care Tools Act. If it’s approved, it will provide resources to schools to ensure they have enough athletic trainers and medical staff who can look out for the warning signs of a concussion.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) has updated its concussion policy to help protect all of its 250,000 student athletes. Marina Schnarr believes parents also need to be educated so they don’t have to go through the pain she and her husband feel every day.