What Happened?

Drew Swank was a natural born athlete.  He was strong with great balance and coordination.  Drew was a leader amongst his peers and a competitor in many sports and endeavors.  He was also a Varsity football player for the Valley Christian Panthers of Spokane, Washington.  He was a central part of the team.

Drew suffered what is known as Second Impact Syndrome.  It is a terrible example of what can happen when an athlete is playing with a concussion and receives a Second  blow;  hard enough to cause a second concussive event.

Anatomy of Drew’s Second Impact:

Drew played in a game on September 18th, 2009 against the Pateros Billygoats in Washington, State.  In that game he was hit very hard and received a concussion.  He was down on the ground when the pile came towards him and a big linemen fell straight onto his head.

That was quite a blow.

Drew however played on and also received a neck stinger.  He played mostly only defense in the second half of that game as a result.

Later that weekend he came to his parents and told them he was having some severe headaches.  Due to the nature of the blow he took the family decided to get him looked at.

On the following Monday  it was determined by Drew’s family doctor that he had a concussion.  Drew’s return to the field would only be approved after he could report that the headaches had subsided.   Drew actually did something here that is very commendable.  He came to Mom and Dad and told them he was hurting. This Self Reporting is a key part of what we are stressing players have to do.  It seems the exception rather then the rule and  is something players in general will not do.

Drew had played tackle football since 5th grade.  He knew what it meant to play hurt.  This was something different so he knew he needed help.  At the advice of his family doctor it was determined that he needed to stay out of practice that week.  So he went and watched and tried to rest.  Thursday came and he still had not practiced.

The headaches had not completely resolved until Wednesday night.  Thursday he reported they were gone.  His parents reported this to the Dr. and received written permission for Drew to play on Friday.  So he grabbed his gear and headed to the bus with the boys to the town of  Washtucna,  Washington.  That is the home of the Perennial powerhouse and State Champs the Lacrosse-Washtucna Tiger Cats.  The Valley Christian boys started the game in a daze and by all accounts were getting dominated.

There were a lot of hard hits and Drew was in the middle of many of them.  From the stands the family noticed he did not look right.  He seemed to be off.  All the boys did but Drew in particular seemed to be struggling.

At some point he reached up and seemed to be grabbing grass out of his face mask.  He seemed dazed.

As his Father (Don) watched he saw Drew standing in the way of a blocker who was coming at him.  His arms at his side, Drew made no attempts to fend off the block.  Drew was plowed by the blocker.  The blow hit him in the Chest and onto the ground.  Don ran to meet his son as he staggered to the sideline to pull him out of the game.  Drew collapsed in his Dad’s arms as they were trying to get his helmet off.

What followed was a frantic and confused effort to determine what went wrong and what was happening.  Coaches and  Assistants from both teams, along with the school nurse from Valley Christian, came down from the stands and assisted. At some point his helmet was removed and he was having seizures.

After several minutes an ambulance came to pick him up.  It took about  20-30 minutes to assist Drew and for him to be loaded into the ambulance.  Drew was transported off the field as the fans, players, coaches, and families watched in horror. Prayers were said all around.

The ambulance took him another 30 minutes to Ritzville, Washington where there is a hospital.  They treated Drew & prepared him for the helicopter trip to Spokane.  Another 2 hours passed waiting for the chopper and in getting Drew prepped for the flight.

It was almost four hours after the injury when the chopper got  Drew  to Sacred Heart Medical Center.  There he would undergo an MRI which showed his Brain was bleeding out of control.  That warranted an immediate Craniectomy; a removal of a large part of his Skull.   This was designed to give Drew’s brain room to swell.  In the end this attempt to save his life would not work.

Drew Swank clung to life for 2 more days.  He was alive primarily with the help of medical staff and equipment.  He passed away and was delivered unto his maker that Sunday night.

The chain of events that led to Drew’s passing is tragic.  There are so many things that went wrong for Drew that fateful week.  There is not one person to blame.  Football is a dangerous sport. We all know this.

However we currently have a Systemic Problem in football in regards to the protection of and treatment of our athletes. This applies to sports in general.  Here is a simple definition:

“A systemic problem is a problem due to issues inherent in the overall system rather than due to a specific, individual, isolated factor.

A change to the structure, organization or policies in that system could alleviate the systemic problem.”

So it is with all this in mind that we ask you to help us change the system.  There are system wide issues here.  Some of those are:

  • Lack of available trainers and doctors at high school and youth sporting events.
  • Lack of specific and applicable training of our coaches and staff.
  • Lack of ambulances and medical facilities.
  • No set policies on “Immediate Response”.
  • Lack of Protocols for prevention and management of concussions and Traumatic Brian Injuries.
  • Lack of diagnostic tools. Things like ImPACT Neuro Cognitive Testing should be used in the off season to establish Baseline Brain performance for all athletes.   No Return to Play decision should ever be made without this simple yet valuable tool.
  • Use of MRI’s and Cat Scans while expensive should be mandatory after a concussion is reported.  These machines help see what is happening inside the brain itself.
  • Lack of diligence on behalf of Coaches, Team Mates, Players and parents.  This is aimed at none of us and all of us.  It is Human Nature if you will. We have to stop watching just the ball and keep our eyes on the whole team.  If we need a Trainer or Team Liaison to watch the boys and not the game then so be it.
  • We need to change the culture that rewards the big hit regardless of its legality and then pays no attention to the player that received the blow.
  • And the List Goes on……..

No one specifically is responsible for Drew’s passing. It is important to know that we all realize this. We blame the broken system we have and wish things could have been different.

Drew Swank died from his participation in a game he enjoyed and he became, by some accounts, the 12th Player in Washington State to befall that fate.

Those of us at Drew’s Team remain committed to the simple concept that we do not want this to happen again and that we will not rest until we feel the Systemic Problem we now have is substantially corrected.

Please Join Us

Drew was an excellent Fisherman


5 responses to “What Happened?

  1. “Drew’s Team” sheds light on an issue deeply engrained in football. Deep love and respect for their sport and teammates makes players reluctant to admit when they’re hurt. They don’t want to miss a game, or even a play. IT’S THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST OF THE GAME.
    Our son is a student and 3 sport athlete at Valley Christian High School. His favorite sport is, of course, football. In the fall of 2009, every Friday night, Drew and his friends took the field -outnumbered, outsized, and aware that the scoreboard would likely reflect it. But they always wanted to play. They took the field not because their schoolmates, parents or coaches expected them to, but because they loved the game and what it meant to them.
    Drew’s younger brother Tim unknowingly but amply demonstrated just how deeply so many aspects of this game can be rooted in a player’s heart and mind.
    My husband Aaron coached Tim’s 8th grade football team last fall. Less than two weeks after losing his big brother, Tim (with his family’s support) put on his helmet and pads, laced up his cleats, ran onto the field, and quietly played like he had in every other game. Scoring, blocking, tackling, scoring again. Like Drew, Tim is a gifted athlete that avoids the spotlight. Tim has mastered the art of soaring under the radar; a quiet but effective team leader. The team went on to win a very emotional championship.
    Any good football coach can tell you that this sport reaches young men on a level that may otherwise be inaccessible. It draws them out. Coaches love it because it allows them to dig in and help boys develop into young men with exceptional character. Players love it because through hours of sweat, pain, determination, and commitment, they learn what they’re made of. Together they forge a bond and as a unit they step into battle side by side. Each one willing to take a hit for the other. Their reward is learning a profound respect for teamwork, discipline, courage, accountability, self sacrifice, pride of accomplishment, and many other qualities that will help them make their way through life.

    Our job now is to make sure those players survive the sport they love so they can become men and reap the rewards they worked so hard for and deeply deserve. We need to get as many schools as possible to implement the IMPact technology and encourage players to self report. We need to make sure they understand that it’s crucial to alert someone if they’re not feeling right. It’s braver and more responsible to speak up than risk irreversible damage.

    • Annette… Thanks for all you have done and are doing. Through these types of efforts lives are already being changed. We as a society are actually waking up for the first time on this issue. Each of us involved in Drew’s life and his life after death will make a change in the world. Together we are making a difference. Like a pebble in a still water pond each of us makes a ripple whose effects will be felt far away and in places we could never Imagine. This is such an important cause, How brave are the Swank’s and young Tim. The facts are pretty clear. We need to do more. I am so thankful all of us are going to be together on this issue. Drew brought me into this fight. He knew what my propose was even when I did not. How I came into this story and the story of Matthew Newman was a mystery to me. No longer. Drew is my guide. I am just following the road signs….

      God Bless you and let’s continue this very important journey!

      Best wishes;

  2. Mollie Merchant DiBernardo

    Thank You, I found Drew’s website while searching for more information regarding Chronic Traumatic Encepholopothy. What an amazing young man and how blessed I feel to see this website. I would like to get involved. Please add me to your mailing list. God Bless You and this remarkable young man.

  3. God bless Drew. I have been involved in football all my life and am very conflicted. I’m not sure that I will allow my son to play.

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