ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY (WSLS 10) - Since the start of the 2015 school year, almost 10 students nationwide have lost their lives playing the game they love - football.
The most recent case - a 9-year-old in Ohio. The statistics sparked concern with parents and healthcare professionals.
A family in Rockbridge County knows that concern all too well. The Lawhorne family is facing a tough decision after their son suffered a concussion and temporary paralysis playing football.
Joshua Lawhorne dreams of a breakout season were intercepted with one hit in Rockbridge County's first game of the 2015 season. As he pushed his way through the defense to make a first down, he was hit from the side.
It may not have looked all that jarring, but it would leave him temporarily paralyzed.
"Seeing him lying on the field was the first time I've ever seen anything like that because he was out," explained Joshua's mom, Wendy. "He didn't move, he just blacked out."
"It honestly was kind of like a horror movie itself. It just all scared me because I didn't know what was going on everybody was around me," Joshua recalled.
"It's easy to say as a provider to a parent ‘just don't let him play football,' but that's not reality. You may have some athletes that are going to go to college only because they have athletic ability and for us to deny them that opportunity is wrong," explained Dr. Jack Perkins, Carilion Clinic faculty.
Dr. Perkins says it's important for parents to ask coaches questions, such as:
- What kind of medically trained staff is on the sidelines?
- What's the program's protocol when a player gets hurt?
He says a good rule of thumb is a football program shouldn't operate if it doesn't have a fulltime athletic trainer.
Currently, Dr. Perkins is working with Franklin County schools on an upcoming large health screening for student athletes.
Dr. Perkins and other physicians are planning to screen hundreds of people for potential sudden cardiac arrest. They hope to find athletes who potentially have heart abnormalities using an EKG machine.
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The goal is to expand to other areas in Southwest Virginia if the program proves successful in Franklin County.
In the meantime, a lot of parents are faced with the decision to let their child play or not have a serious injury, a decision the Lawhornes didn't take lightly.
"You hear the stories with the kids having heart attacks on the field, they're breaking their necks, the fear I have now is I don't want to say yeah I'm letting him go back out and play and then that happen again. I don't want that to happen again," said Wendy.
"We're still struggling, you know, thinking are we doing the right thing," Kurt, Joshua's father explained.