The neuropsychologist who invented the widely used ImPACT test to help diagnose concussions testified on Wednesday that the symptoms experienced by a West Mifflin man who was injured on the high school football field 13 years ago are unrelated to that injury .
Dr. Mark R. Lovell told a jury he believed Shane Skillpa’s symptoms – anxiety, depression and lack of short-term memory – did not stem from what he called a ‘mild concussion’ he suffered on August 24, 2009.
Skillpa, 29, is suing the West Mifflin Area School District, Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League and Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association for negligence. His trial began Sept. 8 before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Arnold Klein.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations on Friday.
Skillpa claims that after he suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit during a drill in second grade, coaches told him to get a new helmet and get back to training. He said he never told anyone at the time that he was injured and continued to practice for a few more days before his mother realized he didn’t look well.
He was diagnosed with a concussion and remained in intermittent treatment for two years before reporting feeling 100%.
Skillpa then graduated from high school and attended Slippery Rock University. He started out as an exercise science student, then moved into computer science.
However, he alleges that due to recurring symptoms – including migraines – he was unable to continue in IT.
He then went to nursing school and currently works as a nurse at Jefferson Hospital, having spent several months in Florida over the past year as a traveling nurse.
Skillpa claims he has to make accommodations in his job because of his symptoms.
Lovell, who performed a number of psychological tests on Skillpa and reviewed his medical records, told the jury that Skillpa had graduated from college and nursing school.
“This is not consistent with someone with post-concussion syndrome and certainly not with someone with traumatic encephalopathy or an organic affective disorder,” Lovell wrote in his expert report.
“I think he has psychological issues, yes.”
Lovell said in his report that Skillpa’s initial ImPACT test, administered a year before his concussion, indicated that he already had anxiety and attention difficulties before he was concussed.
The concussion did not exacerbate these, he testified.
Under cross-examination, Lovell admitted that if he had been on the field and knew Skillpa had been injured that day, he would have taken him out of the game.
“If in doubt, remove them? asked Skillpa attorney Anthony J. Plastino II.
“Yes, I believe in it,” Lovell replied.
As part of his testimony, Lovell interviewed Skillpa’s expert witnesses in the case, including Dr. Bennet Omalu, who is credited with being the first doctor to link football with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
Omalu, who did not examine Skillpa but did review his medical records, testified on Monday that he believed Skillpa had suffered permanent brain damage from the concussion and additional blows to the head during the practices that followed. .
He said he believes Skillpa has traumatic encephalopathy, which will continue to worsen and will likely lead to a shortened life expectancy.
But Lovell called Omalu’s findings “ridiculous”.
“Dr. Omalu is considered a real outlier, and I wouldn’t say he is well regarded by his colleagues,” Lovell said.
In his report, his words were even stronger, writing that Omalu’s opinions “are not based in fact and have no basis in science or accepted medical practice.”
Lovell wrote and testified that a diagnosis of CTE cannot be made in a living person and can only be proven after death.
He said Omalu coined the term traumatic encephalopathy syndrome “so he could (falsely) diagnose CTE in living individuals.
“The indication that Mr. Skillpa has CTE or what he calls TES is ludicrous and would be dismissed by any qualified brain injury specialist,” Lovell wrote.