Mom sues district for son's brain disabilities

The mother of a former North Medford High School football player is suing the Medford School District for $585,000 for a brain injury sustained by her son when he allegedly was sent back into a game after suffering a concussion.

Theresa Pinder, who is employed by the district, said her son, Nicholas Harris, was sent back into a junior varsity game against South Medford High School after he suffered at least one concussion on Oct. 15, 2009. "My main concern is for the proper training of the coaches, what to look for with head injuries," Pinder said. "I would hate for any family to go through what we've endured. It's been a long road."

A few minutes before halftime, Harris, then a sophomore, collapsed into seizures.

He ended up in a medically induced coma at Rogue Valley Medical Center and still suffers from the effects of the brain injury, she said.

"Nicholas was in a full-blown seizure," Pinder said. "He's fortunate to be with us."

Pinder's attorney, Michael Kellington, served the school district with the lawsuit on Oct. 17, according to court records. Calls to Superintendent Phil Long, Medford attorney Thaddeus Pauck and coaching staff at North Medford High School were not returned Wednesday.

Harris, who played wide receiver and strong safety, was struck in the first quarter of the game, according to the lawsuit. Then he was struck again in the second quarter. After the second hit, Harris told North Medford coaches he had a concussion. But coaches allegedly told Harris to "just try and stick it out," and sent him back into the cross-town rivalry game.

According to the suit, shortly after he re-entered the game, Harris was struck a third time, returned to the sidelines, suffered a seizure, vomited, collapsed and passed out.

Pinder was at the game and was called down to the field, she said. Her son was taken by ambulance to Rogue Valley Medical Center where he was admitted to intensive care and placed in a medically induced coma, Pinder said.

The suit claims North Medford coaches were negligent because they failed to recognize the signs of a "concussive-type injury" necessitating Harris' removal from the game. It also said the staff failed to have Harris examined by a qualified or certified athletic trainer, "who was available on the field," who would have recognized the signs of concussive injury and removed Harris from the game. It alleges Harris should not have been sent back into the game after showing signs of injury or after telling the coach he believed he had a concussion.

It also states Harris, now 17, has suffered brain damage, multiple concussions, including a "Grade 3 concussion" with post-concussive prolonged seizures, cognitive changes, sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting, abnormal balance, vertigo, headaches and mood changes.

"Injuries are permanent and severe and will have lifelong impact on the quality of Mr. Harris' life," the lawsuit says.

Pinder said three neurologists have refused to release her son to play contact sports, and adult sports figures have tried to explain to him that "it's not worth the risk," she said.

Harris left North Medford High School because it was too difficult for him to watch football, his mother said, adding that he remains frustrated and angry that he can't play the sport he loves.

"At that age, the kids don't believe anything bad can happen," Pinder said. "It's difficult for him to understand why he can't play football. It was his passion. As a parent, all you think is, 'That's my baby.' "

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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