Published January 24, 2014
During his senior year at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., Jack Vermeil was participating in school lacrosse practice – when he suffered an intense blow to the head.
“I really don’t know how it happened, because I blacked out,” Vermeil, grandson of former NFL coach Dick Vermeil, told FoxNews.com. “I was told I kind of slipped and collided with a teammate. I went down, and when I got up, I immediately knew something was off. I couldn’t remember the past 5 to 10 seconds.”
After the accident, Vermeil started to feel extremely lightheaded and “swimmy,” noting that something wasn’t quite right. He was immediately taken to a doctor, who diagnosed him with a concussion.
Vermeil spent the next month undergoing standard rehabilitation procedures for his head injury. But while he eventually passed his ImPACT test and was cleared to return to play, he said he still didn’t feel like himself when he was back on the field. Despite these worries, he ended up playing through the rest of his senior year.
Once the lacrosse season was over, he decided he needed more help.
“I was still having symptoms and still noticing things from my concussion,” Vermeil said. “So I went back to rehab and decided to go through an aggressive rehab program, and that’s when I really started to work on the Dynavision machine.”
During his second attempt at rehab, Vermeil regularly used an innovative machine called the Dynavision D2, which helped him to strengthen his gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination. A simple electronic board consisting of 64 LED lights, the Dynavision D2 is now being used in hospitals across the country – helping many athletes to fully heal after brain injuries.
Bouncing back after a concussion
More and more research has shown that the days and weeks following a concussion are a crucial time of recovery for an athlete. During this period, players are advised to rest mentally and physically, while slowly rebuilding critical skills before they can return to the playing field.
However, some athletes resume physical activity too soon, putting them in danger of further injury and even additional concussions.
“We see an awful lot of concussed kids, around 400 in the peak season months,” Dr. James Masterson, a specialist in sports medicine at the Concussion Management Center for Westmoreland Hospital in Greenburg, Penn., told FoxNews.com. “We’ve been using the standard stuff for rehabilitation—the ImPACT test and the balance test. But my issue with that is we’re going to put a kid back on the field, and we haven’t done any gross motor testing.”
In order to determine whether or not a player should return to sports, many physicians utilize the ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) test. The test is a computerized evaluation program consisting of various survey questions that help to gauge a player’s concussion symptoms and neurocognitive ability.
The ImPACT test is often employed together with a Sway Balance test, which is meant to monitor for signs of balance-related dysfunction.
However, Masterson noted that many players can pass an ImPACT test but can continue to experience concussion-related symptoms – which is why he and other doctors have started utilizing the Dynavision machine to help improve their patients’ recoveries.
“We have some data about how fast kids at different ages should complete the test,” Masterson said. “We’ve incorporated reaction time testing, some impulse control, and put cognitive tests in there. They’re hitting red lights and chanting numbers, which is similar to what they’re going to need to do in their sport.”
Testing hand-eye coordination with Dynavision
Phil Jones, the founder of Dynavision, first encountered the machine when he played for the Canadian Football League back in the 1980s. The device was located in his team’s locker room to help the players improve their hand-eye coordination and reaction times.
Then, when Jones decided to retire seven years later, he approached the company that had owned the machine about possibly working with them.
“They weren’t sure what to do with it, because it was so different,” Jones told FoxNews.com. “They asked if I was interested in purchasing it. So that’s what I did; I bought the whole company and made it my own and redesigned it, because of the effect it had on myself and my teammates.”
The automated Dynavision D2 board holds 64 lights located in concentric ring patterns. Once it’s activated, the lights come on at various speeds and different patterns. The user is meant to stand in front of the board and react to the lights by hitting them as fast as he or she can during an allotted period of time. The device even keeps track of an individual’s score – helping to serve as an additional motivational tool for already competitive athletes.
Furthermore, the machine houses a tachistoscope, which flashes certain types of information like vocabulary words or math problems on the display at random. Users then call out the words they see or solve the problems as they continue to hit the illuminated lights for an extra challenge.
Jones said that many in the rehab industry have loved the results they’ve seen with the Dynavision D2, with more than 1,000 hospitals across the country utilizing the device for concussion patients. While they don’t have any solid statistics yet on whether or not the Dynavision results in better or faster recovery, Jones said that all of the anecdotes have been positive.
“So many hospitals are using this and raving about the results; there’s something going on about recovery,” Jones said. “They’ve been using it for several years, and they insist that they have lots of examples where female patients come in there and have been long-term sufferers of concussions from soccer or equestrian accidents, and these girls they’re coming to us and telling us they’re feeling better than they’ve felt in years.”
Vermeil agreed that the Dynavision or some other type of motor-control testing device should be incorporated into every concussion patients’ rehabilitation process – since his experience was so beneficial.
“It helped me, as I’m sure it does a lot of people involved in sports, because it was kind of like a competition for myself,” Vermeil said. “Each time you come in, you want to do better than you did last time. And once you get the foundation, you see everything start to improve…. I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to do that as an athlete.”