Zack Lystedt was a talented athlete.
In football, especially, he was a standout — a linebacker on defense and a fullback on offense.
“He played almost every down, always,” said his dad, Victor Lystedt.
But in October 2006, when Zack was in eighth grade, his promising football career came to a crashing halt — and his life changed forever. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, triggered by a concussion sustained during a school football game. The Maple Valley teen was in a coma for months and has spent the years since working to regain what he lost.
“Now, he uses his cane more than a wheelchair,” his father said. But it’s been a long road.
Zack and his parents have become advocates for concussion education and were the driving force behind a state law that’s become a blueprint for others nationwide.
Now 22, Zack will be in Richland this week for a Concussion Summit.
Kadlec Neurological Resource Center is presenting the event, with help from Brain Injury Alliance of Washington. It’s aimed at providing parents, coaches, parents, school administrators, trainers and young athletes with information on recognizing and managing concussions. A session for health care providers also is planned.
Zack’s parents — Victor and Mercedes — also will be on hand, along with Dr. Stanley Herring, a University of Washington professor and physician and a team doctor for the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners. Herring is a fellow concussion education advocate and a friend of the Lystedt family.
“I’ve had a very fortunate career. I’ve met all kinds of talented athletes and successful people in the community and around the world. In all that time, I haven’t met too many heroes. The Lystedts — they’re heroic,” Herring said. “They have not become bitter, they’ve become advocates. They’ve chosen to be the voice so that this never happens to other kids.”
The summit is May 20. There’s no charge.
The state law, called the Zackery Lystedt Law, says youth athletes suspected of having a concussion must be pulled from play. They aren’t allowed to return until they’ve been evaluated by a medical professional and given written clearance.
The law also has education provisions, including that athletes and parents/guardians must sign and return concussion and head injury information sheets each year.
When then-Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the law in 2009, the Seattle Times called it the “country’s most rigorous law protecting young athletes from severe brain injuries.” Other states have followed suit. Today, all 50 states have laws with similar key elements on the books.
That feels good, Victor Lystedt said, although he added that many people still remain unaware of the dangers concussions can pose, especially to youth athletes.
Herring noted that children’s brains take longer to recover from a concussion. “My message is that having young people involved in sports is very important” and can benefit them physically, emotionally and even academically. But, he added, “we must make sure they’re as safe as can be.”
During the October 2006 football game, Zack tackled another player toward the end of the first half. He didn’t get back up right away.
His family didn’t realize it at the time, but he’d hit his head and suffered a concussion. He sat out the rest of the half, but returned in the second.
After the game, he collapsed.
Victor Lystedt said it was difficult watching his son take such an extreme turn — from a popular athlete to a kid fighting for his life and to regain normalcy.
He praised Zack’s strength. The father has met plenty of tough guys, but “I’ve never met anybody as strong as my kid,” he said.
“For Zack to overcome his adversity and get back to where he’s at now (is inspiring).”
He added that he hopes others learn from their experiences. “It’s our duty and our responsibility to try to alleviate this kind of catastrophic event for somebody else,” Victor Lystedt said.
The Concussion Summit starts at 5 p.m. with a session for health care providers, including athletic trainers, on “Concussions in Youth Sports: Where We Stand in 2015.” The session will include a review of current clinical management and return to play protocols, as well as an update on legislative efforts regarding youth sports concussions. It’s at Anthology Events Venue, 706 Williams Blvd.
A session for parents, coaches, administrators and youth athletes follows at 6:30 p.m. at the Richland Red Lion, 802 George Washington Way.
Dr. Rich Jacobs, a sports medicine physician with Northwest Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine in Richland, also is set to appear.