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A Game That Ended Too Soon

February 3, 2011, 10:00 PM by Kelli Grant

A Game That Ended Too Soon
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Among the hundreds of bills going in front of South Dakota lawmakers this legislative session is one that many coaches, athletes and parents will want to closely watch.

Senate Bill 149 would establish set guidelines to pull kids from a game if they suffer a concussion. And, they wouldn't be allowed to play again unless a doctor gives the ok. It's legislation one KELOLAND young woman says is the most important bill in Pierre this session.

When the University of Minnesota came calling, 16-year-old Brianna Sudenga got an offer she just couldn't refuse.

“They told me that they had a scholarship for me and that they wanted me to start at shortstop,” Sudenga said.

As an early high school graduate, the Valley Springs native accepted and made her way onto the softball field in the Twin Cities. But that dream didn't last long.

“Right over my glove and hit me right here,” Sudenga said.

Near the end of her freshman year, a line drive struck Brianna in the forehead.

“It's pretty gruesome. It just hits me and you can actually hear it,” Sudenga said.

She says she wouldn't have stayed in the game if she knew that hit would change her softball career and her life forever.

“I told my coaches and my trainer that I would be fine, I just wanted to keep playing, I just needed some Advil,” Sudenga said.

So they kept her in. She played the rest of her freshman year, and played 39 games her sophomore year. Then she finally saw a doctor 9 months after the hit.

“My coaches had sent me to a psychologist. I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 18,” Sudenga said.

After the blow to the head, Sudenga's personality changed and her grades hit rock bottom.

“After my sophomore year, my grades were so bad. I had like a 1.57 GPA and I graduated at the age of 16, skipped 5th grade. So grades were never an issue with me,” Sudenga said.

She failed out of college and shortly after found out why. A doctor at Mayo Clinic told her she didn't have ADHD. It was something far more serious.

“I think had I been taken care of it right away, it wouldn't have got that bad. But because it was a concussion that wasn't managed, that's when it turned into a TBI,” Sudenga said.

TBI or traumatic brain injury is exactly as serious as it sounds.

“It can be catastrophic, it can be a forever,” Dr. Michael Bergeron, with Sanford Health said.

And that forever is what Brianna has experienced. It's why she's speaking out in favor of the concussion legislation recently introduced to South Dakota lawmakers.

In January, health officials even policy makers and players in the NFL made a plea to our legislators.

“Concussions are serious. I mean they're a brain injury. And the brain can heal if given the opportune time to do so. So what this law does is it makes sure that parents, guardians, coaches, etc. Treat the kid accordingly so they have time to recover,” Jeff Miller, with the NFL, said.

Senate Bill 149 is made up of three parts.

It asks that athletes, parents and coaches be educated about the dangers of concussions. And says if a young athlete is suspected of having one, he or she must be removed from a game or practice and not be allowed to return to play until a licensed health care professional gives them the all clear.

“Speaking from experience, athletes don't come out of the game. You know if you truly love the game and you wanna succeed, you're pretty much gonna do anything possible to stay in the game,” Sudenga said.

“I think when people hear the seriousness, the risk, the numbers of concussions, the prevalence in certain sports and really how kids should be treated, I think they'll understand and I think they'll see that this is an appropriate bill and it'll make a difference in kid’s lives,” Bergeron said.

Today, 20-year-old Sudenga, is healing and will finish nursing school in Sioux Falls this May. She says she's happy with her life now, even though it wasn't the plan. But sadly, because of one hit, her dream to play a sport she loved so much has come to an end.

Since Sudenga's concussion in 2009, she's suffered 2 more. One in the stands at a softball game and another at a softball clinic. The bill in Pierre is waiting to be read in the Senate Education Committee. We'll be following it through the session and will bring you updates.

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