Orange High School freshman Thys Oldenburg remains in a medically induced coma after suffering a hard hit on the football field on Oct. 12, 2017. The Orange County community has rallied around the 14-year-old and his family, Oldenburg’s aunt Cheri Bowers said. Cheri Bowers Submitted
Orange High School freshman Thys Oldenburg remains in a medically induced coma after suffering a hard hit on the football field on Oct. 12, 2017. The Orange County community has rallied around the 14-year-old and his family, Oldenburg’s aunt Cheri Bowers said. Cheri Bowers Submitted

Orange County

Congressman praying for Orange High athlete after news of injury reaches Washington

By Joe Johnson

jjohnson@heraldsun.com

October 25, 2017 06:00 AM

UPDATED October 25, 2017 02:03 PM

HILLSBOROUGH

News of Orange High School football player Thys Oldenburg, who suffered a head injury Oct. 12, has caught the attention of a member of Congress.

U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican who represents the 8th District that runs from Concord to Pinehurst, posted on Facebook and Twitter on Tuesday that he and his wife were praying for Thys’ recovery.

“My wife, Renee, and I pray for God’s healing for Thys, and our thoughts are with the Oldenburg family,” Hudson said.

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Oldenburg has been in a medically induced coma at Duke University Hospital since being injured in a junior varsity football game against Hillside High School. Family members have said Thys’ condition remains critical.

“We’re taking it minute-by-minute,” said Caroline Oldenburg, Thys’ aunt.

“It’s been a roller-coaster of emotions,” she said. “It’s been frustrating because of the type of injury it is. You know with a broken bone, they go in and do surgery and you’re off to begin recovery. It doesn’t work that way with the brain.”

Donations are being directed to a GoFundMe page that Caroline Oldenburg set up to keep well-wishers updated on Oldenburg’s progress and to help pay her nephew’s medical bills. North Carolina public high schools also are required to enroll student-athletes in the Student-Athlete Catastrophic Accident Insurance Program, which provides coverage from $25,000 up to $5 million.

The GoFundMe page has raised more than $24,000 of its $100,000 goal. Caroline Oldenburg has said the donations will be deposited into a fund for “the next kid who this happens to,” if her nephew “wakes up out of this coma and is fine.”

Pediatric trauma

Hudson has taken an interest in traumatic injuries since teaming from fellow Congressman G.K. Butterfield, A Democrat whose 1st District covers Durham, to form the Pediatric Trauma Caucus last year.

Northwood High School’s Chargers junior varsity team wore and sold orange towels imprinted with Thys Oldenburg’s jersey number and a pair of praying hands at the Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, game against Orange High School.
Northwood High School Athletics Submitted

Most of their focus has been on trauma-related injuries outside of sports. While Oldenburg’s case isn’t unique, it shows that even with protective gear, serious sports injuries can happen.

Hudson said he is committed to reducing head injuries.

“Despite the progress made over the past several years, there’s still a lot we don’t know about head trauma,” Hudson said. “That’s why I’ve made it a top priority to examine this problem – especially in our nation’s youth.”

Hudson also met with the Carolina Panthers in July after concussion researchers at Boston University’s CTE Center released a paper detailing the prevalence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of deceased NFL players. The disease can be found in individuals who have been exposed to repeated head trauma. It was first linked to boxing but more recently has become associated with football.

Concussions

Earlier this week, a report was made to the Orange County School Board on the number of sports-related concussions that occurred last year, according to Orange County Athletics Director Bob Hill.

There were 56 sports-related concussions throughout the county’s middle and high schools in 2016-17, up from 51 reported in each of the previous two years.

Orange High students suffered half (28) of the concussions reported in 2016-17, compared with 11 during the previous year. At Cedar Ridge, the numbers were reversed. Only 14 were reported in 2016-17 after there were 25 at the school in the previous year.

There is ongoing concussion research at UNC Chapel Hill.

Researchers at the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center have a three-year study underway that is examining if behavioral intervention can reduce the risk of sports-related traumatic brain injuries in high school football. They are measuring head-impact forces and their effects on the players. They’re fitting helmets with accelerometers and using questionnaires and to gather their data. Orange High is one of the participating teams.

The N.C. High School Athletics Association for several years has had a protocol for handling suspected concussions in athletes. After a concussion has been diagnosed, it requires more than one evaluation for medical clearance and also for the player to be completely free of concussion symptoms to return to sports-related activities.

Joe Johnson: 919-419-6678, @JEJ_HSNews