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November 16th, 2011
04:32 PM ET

CNN Presents a Dr. Sanjay Gupta Special Report:"Big Hits, Broken Dreams"

Football is a way of life at JH Rose High School in Greenville North Carolina, where Friday nights electrify this otherwise sleepy rural town.

Whether it’s college, high school or pee-wee games, football is a religion here and the players are its disciples. Disciples are laying it all on the line for that precious win ... that elusive trophy.

But football glory comes at a cost.

Concussions are on the rise in high school football and less than 40% of high schools have certified athletic trainers – the key medical personnel who can help diagnose and treat injured players.

In fall of 2008 Jaquan Waller, a Greenville Rose High School junior, died of "second impact syndrome," a fatal swelling of the brain that occurred when he took a blow to his head before his first injury had healed.

Waller returned to play because there no athletic trainer or certified medical personnel to help manage his injury.

Weeks later – another fatal football injury. Matt Gfeller, a sophomore at neighboring Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, died from a single head injury.

The school district was faced with a challenge – to keep players safe from head injuries. So the community banded together with football giant East Carolina University to put athletic trainers on the field and to start high tech tests to monitor students brain health.

Their hope is to return this season to the championships ranks, without losing anyone. But can they get to the top without tragedy?

Follow the Rampants and the Greenville community in the 2011 football season for CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta Special Report: “Big Hits, Broken Dreams” premiering on CNN Presents Sunday, January 29 at 8:00 pm ET, replaying at 11:00 pm ET.

Filed under: brain injury • Jaquan Waller
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Suzanne

    How do I get a copy of this to show to my school?

    March 2, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  2. Cindy

    Is it possible to purchase a copy of the "Big Hits, Broken Dreams" documentary? I would like to make a presentation to our School Board and provide a copy that is better than my self-recorded copy (with commercials).

    February 26, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  3. Fran

    Missed the original airing of the documentary, when can I catch it again?I have a 14 year old son who is in Football and Baseball going nto High school in the fall and would like him to see this.

    February 4, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  4. BJ Holladay

    Folks need to know that concussions are not limited to football. This special makes football look like the most violent sport. Statistics show that the highest incident of concussion is in.....get this.....Women's Soccer!

    January 31, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  5. Jim

    Great documentary! I watched it Sunday evening (and recorded it). Very well done and informative. I am proud of my HS alma mater for taking the right measures to ensure the safety of these young men and hope all HS football programs will follow suit. I am also proud of my alma mater, ECU, for its involvement and help through its nationally acclaimed Sports Medicine program.

    January 31, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  6. Jim

    Good job Sarah! LIke you said, we are far froma sleepy rural town. Me may not be LA or NYC, but we ARE categorized as a metorpolitan city by the latest Census data.

    January 28, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  7. Suzanne

    Meredith Golomb, M.D. , a Pediatric Neurologist who specializes in pediatric stroke at Riley Hospital (Indiana University) in Indianapolis, has recently published a paper in conjunction with resident Jared Brosch, M.D. about connection between high school football injuries and occurrence of stroke.

    January 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  8. Tim Bambrough

    I have seen some of the snipittes of your program Big Hits,Broken Dreams. I do think it is important to let people know about concussions and how you get them. I also agree with how dangerous they can be. But I also feel that if you are going to really get into this subject you need to do it from more sides than just a nerosurgeon. Of course your take on this is going to be a hard line stance on how bad it is for you phyically.
    The type of hit that realy has a chance to give you a concussion is an illeagal hit. So I think that we need to get all coaches from all levels of play to teach the proper tackling. I also feel like the NFL has to do more to a player who hits someone illeagely. Right now it is only a fine. $10,000 is not much money to someone making millions a year. I think in the NFL if someone hits another player high they should be ejected from the game they are playing in plus the fine. If they do it a second time in the same season the second offense is the game they are playing in and the next and the fine goes up to $50,000. They only way to really show you are serious about this is to have a truely tough policy. In collage football start with not finishing the game. Second offense cost you 2 games. and so on. when it comes to collage kids because they do not get paid than you have to make it about playing and gettin g coverage.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Rob

      Although I do support the push for strict rules regulating helmet-to-helmet hits, you're fooling yourself by thinking that those are the majority of the hits that result in concussions. Many more heads are slammed into the ground secondary to a clean tackle, or whiplashed during a blindside hit than there are heads that are illegally hit by another helmet. Rules and strict fines or suspensions can only limit a fraction of concussions, even when they are followed very closely. This report shows how important it is to have a certified athletic trainer present to assess the MAJORITY of concussions that result from LEGAL hits in football. The false sense of security brought on by the new-age football helmets is a big factor in the illegal hits that you are referring to, though.

      January 30, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  9. Jim

    Sleepy rural town???!! We may not be a metropolis, but we are far from a rural town. With a Greenville/pitt county population of 115,000, I believe we are classified as a small metropolitan city. We have a major university, a medical school and dental school just to mention a few of out assets. I could go on and on.

    December 21, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  10. J

    Sleepy rural town? It's a decent sized city as far as NC goes. Yea, around it it's rural.

    December 9, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  11. Sarah

    First of all, Greenville, NC is NOT a sleepy rural town. It's actually a good-sized city in eastern NC (a little research would tell you that). Second of all Winston-Salem (and therefore Reynolds High) is NOT a neighboring town... it's halfway across the state (again, research). Third of all, East Carolina is not a football giant.

    December 1, 2011 at 10:51 pm |