Hi – I’m Rich Able, and this is my story of how X2 Biosystems and our mission to apply technology to protect kids in sports came to exist. First, some background on me: 14 years in the medical device business at Roche Labs & Abbott Labs and the past 13 years in technology product development consulting to Fortune 100 companies. My son Kyle was a varsity football player at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, WA. He began playing football during his freshman year in 2006. Kyle showed great aptitude in football and was immediately tagged as a future varsity starter as tailback and safety. 2007 was a big year for Kyle. He was designated as the varsity tailback and backup safety to a senior starter. I was always concerned about Kyle playing football. I had played high school football myself and knew about the serious nature of injuries and possible long-term negative effects of the game. I purchased a state of the art helmet to give him as much protection as possible.
October 2007 and a big game against a cross town rival. Kyle got the call and carried the ball on a short yardage play. He was upended by the middle linebacker and slammed head first into the turf. Bam! – he was out cold, and as I watched the video replay I could see why. His head went down into the ground hard and bounced back up hard. The athletic trainer and coach were immediately on the field and Kyle finally regained consciousness after several minutes. We took him to Tacoma General and had an MRI and CAT scan done. The neurologist said he had suffered a serious concussion. Life changed significantly for Kyle during the next 3 months or so. He lost interest in school, his previously great GPA plummeting. He developed vision problems, irritability, loss of appetite, inability to focus, and several other classic post concussion symptoms.
After this experience, I approached Christoph Mack, the founder & CEO of Synapse Product Development (www.synapse.com), who had developed technology platforms for Fortune 100 companies, including NIKE, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Panasonic, etc. I asked Christoph about the possibility of developing technologies that could assist coaches, trainers, and MD’s to better protect the brains of players like Kyle. Christoph is a longtime friend, and he took my questions & concerns seriously. He dug in to the problem, researching the biomechanics of sports brain injury and brainstorming solutions. He mobilized teams of his engineers & scientists to analyze the problem and architect a comprehensive solution. As we learned more about these injuries, we became aware that it’s not necessarily the big “slobberknocker” hits that are the most dangerous- it’s the multiple, repeated, sub-concussive hits that are suspected of doing the most long-term damage to players’ brains. Also, it’s clear that these hits are dramatically under-reported by players and under-recognized by sideline staff. After his big hit, Kyle was cleared to return to play 2 weeks later. Knowing what we know now, it was way too soon. Kyle slowly recovered all his faculties, and appears to be completely fine now. Lots of kids aren’t so lucky, and face lifetimes of debilitating effects from sports brain injury.
It seemed logical at first to approach the problem thinking about embedding sensors into helmets. Heads are getting knocked, so let’s look at the thing that’s supposed to reduce the impact, right? Well, a critical discovery came after some time of “banging our heads” against the limitations of measuring impacts at the helmet: an approach using sensors built into a protective mouthguard produces superior measurement data, and enables a dramatically more cost effective product solution. This means that the benefits of the technology can reach a much greater number of players in much less time than a helmet based solution ever could.
Now, the media, the general public, and football organizations themselves are focused on the epidemic of sports brain injury, and are crying out for solutions. State level legislation mandating the protection of players’ brain health is sweeping the nation. High School, Youth, and NCAA coaches and trainers all tell us that they need tools like the X2 system that give them accurate, clear, real time information and enable them to comply with the new laws.
Our goal is to get this technology to as many kids as possible, as soon as we responsibly can.
Please let us know if you can help.
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