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Long Island football player dies from head injury: The dangers of collisions

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Tom Cutinella, a football player for Shoreham-Wading River High School on Long Island, died after sustaining a head injury during a game.

Cutinella was participating in a varsity game against John Glenn High School when he was injured during a play, about 6 p.m. on Oct. 1. The 16-year-old was rushed off the field in an ambulance and taken to Huntington Hospital, where he later perished following emergency surgery.

"Tom played football for the district since he entered the high school in ninth grade, becoming a member of the varsity team this year. In addition, Tom played lacrosse and was a member of the Natural Helpers program, which focuses on peers helping peers. He excelled academically, had a great sense of humor and was just a great individual overall. He was well-liked among students and staff and he will truly be missed," Steven R. Cohen, superintendent of schools for Shoreham-Wading River Central School District, said.

The incident occurred when the guard/linebacker collided with another player on the field just prior to collapsing in the third quarter.

Head injuries are a serious concern in football at all levels. In July 2010, the National Football League mandated that teams display a poster in locker rooms, warning players about the dangers of concussions.

A study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma in February found frequent concussion-related health problems in retired football players. Levels of testosterone were found to have declined in people who suffered numerous concussions, along with a growth hormone, gonadotropin. Such injuries were also found to contribute to metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that can increase the risk of stroke, diabetes, and coronary artery disease.  

"Retirees 30-65 years of age, with one or more years of National Football League (NFL) play and poor quality of life... were prospectively enrolled. Pituitary hormonal and metabolic syndrome (MetS) testing was performed," researchers wrote in an article announcing their findings.

Three million Americans each year are affected by head injuries; half of those affected also experience an effect on their consciousness. The causes include contact sports, traffic accidents, and blast injures sustained in combat.

"[B]rain damage in blast-exposed veterans is similar to the brain injuries observed in football players who have sustained repetitive concussive head injuries," the U.S. Department of Energy reported in a news release.

Matt Millheiser, head football coach for Shoreham, was among around 60 people who stayed in the waiting room of the hospital, waiting for news of Cutinella's prognosis. More than one person collapsed in tears when a nurse announced news of his passing.

"The skull provides the brain with a protective thick, bony encasement, yet its irregular interior presents opportunities for damage to the fragile tissues it has evolved to protect," Steven T. DeKosky and others wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Cutinella's death makes the third recent death of a high school football player, according to reports. Cornerback Demario Harris Jr. of Charles Henderson High School in Troy, Ala., died Sept. 28 after collapsing on the field Sept. 26 following a tackle. Linebacker Isaiah Langston of Rolesville High School in North Carolina died after collapsing during pregame warm-ups on Sept. 26, family and the school district said Monday.

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