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Lystedt law leaves a lasting legacy

Correction: this version updates an incorrect statistic on the number of concussion laws in the country prior to the Lystedt Law. The Reporter regrets the error.


The Lystedt family had planned an epic Super Bowl party in their spacious, unincorporated Maple Valley home: a live performance of the National Anthem and food and drink to feed 50-100 fans.

But Victor Lystedt received a phone call on the Monday before the big game that changed everything.

“The commissioner called and asked us to go,” Victor said.

The surprise invitation from NFL commissioner Roger Goddell was for more than the triumph of a Seahawks championship birth. It was a celebration of the state of Mississippi, which joined the rest of the nation on Jan. 30 by signing a youth concussion act into law. Zackery Lystedt’s nearly tragic story had inspired action from all 50 states.

“Zack was chosen to deliver this message,” Victor said. “Now the foundation is built.”

In 2006, the then-eighth grader suffered a concussion during a middle school football game in Maple Valley. He re-entered the game after sitting out 15 minutes, sustaining another brain hemorrhage from a hit on the goal line. The 13 year old complained of headaches after the game and collapsed while still on the field.

Surgeons removed both sides of Lystedt’s skull to stop multiple brain bleeds and the teenager spent the next three months in and out of comas. It took 13 months to move any parts of his body — and then it was only a left finger — and the ordeal included two years in hospitals, four weeks in a nursing home and 20 months on a feeding tube.

National media outlets such as ESPN followed along as Zackery battled for nine months to relearn to talk, and, eventually rise from his wheelchair and take a handful of emotional, cane-assisted steps across the Tahoma High School stage to receive his high school diploma in 2011.

Besides his standing as a student at Bellevue College, Zackery spends upwards of 40 hours each week in physical and occupational therapy sessions. Along the way, Lystedt and his family helped construct what has become their most lasting legacy — the Zackery Lystedt Law. The piece of legislation passed unanimously by Washington state in 2009 and features three main principles:

1. Athletes under 18 years old must be pulled from a game or practice if it is suspected they have suffered a concussion.

2. Athletes must be cleared by a medical professional trained in the diagnosis and management of concussions before returning to practice or competition.

3. Each year, athletes, parents and coaches will receive mandatory education and must sign a form acknowledging they’ve received information on the dangers of concussions.

The legislation goes beyond the gridiron, with applications for school-sponsored/interscholastic sports in grades seven through 12 for all contact sports, including soccer and girls ice hockey.

Three years after the law passed in Washington, 33 states and Washington D.C. passed similar concussion legislation, according to USA Football. As of last month, Zackery’s goal of nationwide protection is finished.

“Mississippi is pleased to enact Return to Play legislation that will help protect both athletes and coaches,” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said in a press release from the NFL. “Sports and athletic activities are an important part of life in Mississippi, and taking the steps outlined in this new policy will ensure a safe environment for children.”

In some ways, Zackery’s mission is complete. In others, it’s still just beginning.

From the legislative standpoint, Zackery is willing to testify before Congress in order to unify each of the state’s laws into the official Zackery Lystedt law.

“There will be more in my corner than out of my corner,” he said.

But why bother pushing through more bureaucracy to get Zackery’s name on every law?

“He’s conceited,” Victor said with a laugh. “But really, some of the laws are close (to the three principles), but we want all three things to be exact.”

“Shave down the edges,” Zackery added.

While the law pushes forward, the physical and mental components of Zackery’s journey are encouraging.

Though the 21 year old still struggles with his memory and has trouble when traversing wide open spaces, his accomplishments are far more astounding.

After being unable to move his right leg for five years, he can now lift it off the ground. He can also walk across the house with the help of a cane. Victor believes his son could walk 300 yards by himself. He strives for full physical independence.

And while the steps are coming, Zackery hopes to build on his social life with a girlfriend — or three.

“I’m single,” he said. “And looking.”

This isn’t to say that Zackery isn’t popular.

His list of influential allies is long — owning a lifetime invitation to anything musician Macklemore does and occasionally fielding text messages from his idol, future NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.

At the commissioners party prior to the Super Bowl, Zackery, Victor and his mother, Mercedes, met governors Chris Christie and Mitt Romney, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Whoopi Goldberg, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.

Zackery posed for pictures with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and sat near Paul McCartney, Michael Douglas and Katherine Zeta-Jones at the game.

“I was fist-bumping with Katherine Zeta Jones in the suites,” Victor said. “She is a Seahawks fan.”

Goodell, the much-maligned NFL commissioner who has been criticized by both the players and public for his emphasis on player safety, is a hero in the Lystedt family.

“Ignorant people who want to see people’s heads taken off, they don’t live the way we live,” Victor said.

“I’m so thankful for what Roger Goodell has done for me in my life,” Zackery added. “I’m blown away by how good a guy he is. A great guy. It’s not even the right adjective.”

The Lystedt’s hope that the “warrior attitude” of playing through concussions will slowly melt away, being replaced instead by teammates who are looking out for a young athlete’s best interest and laws that take tough medical decisions out of coach’s hands.

And although the building blocks are in place, there’s plenty of work Zackery feels still needs to be done.

“There’s no stopping,” Zackery said. “The quicker we can get it done, the quicker kids’ lives can be saved.”

 

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