Jenna’s Law was signed by Governor John Kitzhaber on September 16 in a ceremony at the Capitol in Salem. Nine members of Jenna Sneva’s family were present with the young woman, who started a campaign to protect all young athletes from brain trauma more than three years ago.
As he entered the room, Kitzhaber, a medical doctor, said, “This is long overdue.”
”It felt so unreal as the governor was signing,” Sneva said, “but it also feels like such a relief to know that other athletes are protected.”
Also present were Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, sponsor of the bill; Dr. James Chestnutt, MD, OHSU Director of Sports Medicine; Attorney Dave Kracke; and Representative Tim Knopp.
”Three years ago, when Dr. Chestnutt told me I wouldn’t ski or play soccer again, I wanted to kill him,” Sneva said. “I didn’t believe him and doubted the diagnosis. I had to remind him of that at the signing, and we both laughed. His testimony was instrumental in getting this bill passed.”
The Brain Injury Alliance of Oregon (BIAOR) became partners with Sneva in the congressional campaign after helping with the success of Max’s Law, an Oregon law that protects school athletes who have suffered concussions. It was they who chose to name the bill Jenna’s Law rather than extend the coverage of Max’s Law. BIAOR Executive Director Sherry Stock and Attorney David Kracke stayed personally involved from the beginning of committee hearings for Jenna’s Law to its inception, just as they had done with Max’s Law.
The campaigns to protect athletes culminated six years of their tireless effort.
The law, which is in effect January 1, 2014, protects youth in non-school athletic programs by imposing requirements for recognizing and responding to possible concussions. The bill includes education and available information about signs and symptoms of concussion for coaches, trainers, and parents. It also requires a physician’s release for the athlete to return to a sport.
Sneva’s dramatic story of the limitations in her life as a result of post-concussion syndrome led her to challenge the status quo of the attitude in sports about “bell ringer” brain injuries. With growing publicity about these injuries in professional sports and in returning war veterans, there was a timing advantage for Senate Bill 721.
For the athlete who has questions or already suffered a concussion, Sneva and her sister, Catrina, developed a Web page, www.takingit
headon.com. It documents her experience and offers channels for help. Other avenues of creating public and professional awareness found Sneva and her mother, Ronda Sneva, speaking at brain-trauma seminars and workshops throughout Oregon. (Visit nuggetnews.com, and search “Sneva” for related articles.)
The Sisters High School graduate has made enormous progress in three years. She finished 15 credit hours of summer school this year with a 4.0 average in her psychology major. Despite the loss of her favorite activities - skiing, soccer, softball and snowmobiling - she has found a new way to live.
Sneva credits the research and determined doctors and therapists with her progress, and is grateful that the sports world has learned to respect the seriousness and deadliness of sports concussions. She is pleased that her story has been an asset in this discovery. Her family has been as supportive in her illness as they were in her sports successes. Life will never be simple for her, but it is manageable.
Now she sports a new trophy, maybe the most valuable: A law in her name that will protect youth in the future.