KAPOLEI (KHON2) — Officials are looking for answers after Kealakehe football player Reign Tabandera-Martinez came close to dying on the field during a game this month.

The junior defensive back is expected to finally return to the Big Island on Thursday after spending the last 18 days on Oahu, but he’s still missing part of his skull following emergency surgery.

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According to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, athletic trainers, coaches and referees are all trained to find concussion signs and remove a player who displays them, but none of that was enough to stop Reign from the head injury that almost took his life.

Reign said that his toughness kept him from telling trainers and coaches that he was having headaches and throwing up during Kealakehe’s Aug. 6 game against Kapolei as his brain started to bleed and swell.

“I say that toughness is what almost killed him,” Reign’s mom Tiffany said.

The HHSAA is now considering what kind of scenarios could prevent Reign’s injury from happening again.

“I don’t know any state that does this, but the National Federation of State High School Associations does do concussion courses for student-athletes. Maybe if they saw that they could recognize themselves,” HHSAA Executive Director Christopher Chun said.

Last week in their game against Hilo, Reign’s Kealakehe teammates carried his jersey out with them to the field. It will now remain out of circulation as long as Reign is at the school even though he can no longer play football. Even Hilo players sent messages on their shirts, which were broadcast on the Spectrum OC16 telecast of the game.

The Waveriders’ head coach Wyatt Nahale wants this to be a lesson.

“I want to be a strong advocate of how important it is for us to take the head out of tackling and contact,” he said.

University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine Neurology Professor Dr. Kore Liow recommends that parents should weigh many factors when allowing their children to play tackle football, with education on common signs and symptoms of brain injuries being one of them. Other signs are:

  • Headache
  • Motor problems
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Sensory changes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Loss of consciousness

He emphasizes the importance of catching a head injury before another occurs with more severe consequences.

“Second-impact syndrome is what we call when a second concussion is sustained before there’s complete recovery from a previous concussion,” Dr. Liow said. “That can lead to brain swelling. This repeat concussion can cause congestion of blood vessels, increased pressure in the brain, which sometimes could be life-threatening.”

Sometimes that can lead to CTE, which has been posthumously in many football players.

“This is a really important age group to really focus on because how the brain is still so as to developing and as opposed to an adult brain,” Dr. Liow said.

Reign’s parents will have to take a lot of time off of work as he recovers. Tiffany, an ICU nurse, and Kiko, a general manager at Tony Honda in Kona, both said their coworkers have been helpful to cover as they care for Reign.

“It’s gonna be for a few months,” Tiffany said.

Chun said that the HHSAA’s catastrophic injury insurance plan can help in these situations.

“I caught this story from watching the news last night honestly,” Chun said. “Any injury that comes up, we have an insurance program that’s covered and I just I just want the schools and everyone to make sure that they contact us because we have a catastrophic insurance policy that protects the student-athletes and helps the families so we’re working with the family right now because thankfully, I saw the story last night and I made sure to contact the school right away and I contacted our insurance carrier so I put them in touch and hopefully that they’ll be able to help this family out.”

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