A parental fear became reality for football mom Densie De La Torre last month when her son Ricki, a junior at Laguna Beach High School and lineman on the varsity football team, was hit hard on the right pelvic bone and went down on the field.
“What I went through is one of the most horrific things I’ve ever gone through in my life,” said De La Torre of her experience trying to get medical care for her son.
Having sustained a painful pulled groin during a practice, Ricki was told it was OK for him to play in the Oct. 8 game, in which he was injured. According to De La Torre, the trainer, Ron, said her son’s pelvis was bruised, but fine. Ricki went back in but with such pain that he walked off the field and sat out the rest of the game.
De La Torre took her son, in serious pain and developing a fever over the weekend, to the emergency room at Mission Hospital Laguna that Monday, Oct. 11. For two weeks they navigated MRI tests, waiting days for bladder infection cultures which were negative, being told it was a pulled groin and sent home, blood analysis, being denied additional tests because of health insurance discrepancies – De La Torre only had accident insurance she had gotten through the school, which didn’t cover normal doctor visits – and going to school in so much pain Ricki was given a wheel chair. On Oct. 25 a pediatrician, paid for out of pocket, diagnosed Ricki with a staph infection in his muscle and possibly his bone. On Oct. 27 he was hospitalized and treated by pediatric, orthopedic and infectious disease teams and is still being treated as an outpatient today.
De La Torre, who is treasurer of the Football Boosters Club and an avid supporter of the football program, addressed the Laguna Beach school board at its meeting Tuesday. She wants to reevaluate athletic staff and questions the decision to put her son back into play after the Oct. 8 injury during the game. She asked the school board to hire a consultant to assess the school’s football program for areas of improvement, and wants to change the school’s accident insurance plan, which she doesn’t think provides sufficient coverage.
Asked about De La Torre’s requests, Assistant Superintendent of schools Norma Shelton said, “District staff are in the process of reviewing the program and will discuss that review with the Board of Education.”
According to Shelton, a trainer certified by the Board of Certification is on the field at all practices and games, and a volunteer physician attends home football games. The district’s football safety protocols require the head coach to immediately contact an administrator if a student-athlete’s injury requires emergency medical attention.
De La Torre also expressed concern about the number of football injuries incurred by players over the course of the season: she recorded 25 for Ricki this year, and suggested that a hand out be sent to parents explaining symptoms of injury.
“Part of my problem was not knowing where to go and what to do,” she said of her recent experience, and admits her frustration stemmed from various sources – the school, hospitals, insurance companies.
She also wonders if the artificial turf on the field may have been the source of her son’s staph infection, and with good reason: Guyer field was closed on October 13 of last year after numerous football players were infected with staph. After disinfection of the field and training rooms, school officials re-opened the field was, but certain strains of staph are incredibly persistent.
In an effort to understand all aspects of the care her son should have gotten, she talked with training experts like Randy Bauer owner of Bauer Physical Therapy, which does evaluations for schools and drafted an emergency action plan for Laguna Hills High school. De La Torre then set up a meeting this past Monday with Superintendent of Schools Sherine Smith, and Assistant Superintendent Nancy Hubbell. She told them Bauer’s of recommendations to have highly trained athletic trainers on hand at all sporting events. LBHS has a Board Certified athletic trainer on hand for all practices and games, as well as a volunteer physician at home games.
In the meantime, De La Torre said, “unless changes and revisions are made, I cannot with a clear conscience put my son back in next year.”
Ricki wants to play regardless, but while he remains a minor, the decision is not his.
“We are proud of our athletic programs in Laguna Beach Unified School District,” commented Smith. “We have dedicated coaches and enthusiastic, self-disciplined student athletes. We appreciate the deep support we have from the parents and community and look forward to continuing our long tradition of fine sports programs.”
De La Torre emphasized that she does not want to point fingers. “I’m looking for change and reform,” she said simply, “and I’m hopeful that it will happen.”