May 22, 2017

Helping football player kick concussions

For Ellis Moye, 18, there is one place that is heaven on earth. It’s large, green, and filled with shouts and cheers. It’s a football field — and for a while, he wasn’t sure he could ever go back to it.

In 2013, Ellis was a freshman playing JV football for Lincoln High School in San Francisco when a tackle went awry and he hit his head — hard.

Diagnosed with a concussion by his long-time Kaiser Permanente San Francisco pediatrician Neelesh Kenia, MD, the linebacker was sidelined for weeks before returning to help his team finish first in their league.

But a few months after the victorious season, he started to feel dizzy at home.

“The room was swimming, I was nauseous, and in a cold sweat,” said Ellis. “I thought I hadn’t eaten enough, but it happened again a few weeks later. Then it starting happening once or twice a week.”

Out for a season … or two

Dr. Kenia, also a sports medicine physician, ran many tests and collaborated with pediatric neurologist Sharon McDaniel, MD.

“I did a thorough medical workup for vertigo,” she said, adding that a pediatric neuro-oncologist and an ear, nose, and throat specialist evaluated the case, too, because of some of Ellis’ symptoms and test results. But ultimately these were attributed to post-concussion syndrome.

The physicians prescribed a medication that helped his symptoms resolve, but recommended Ellis sit out his sophomore season.

The time off weighed heavily on Ellis. He tried other activities, but it wasn’t the same.

Cleared to play for his junior year, Ellis and a teammate collided. Hitting his head hard, he went to the ER. Another concussion. Ellis was out for the rest of the season.

Ellis had played the game since he was 10. Being off the field again was devastating.

“Football gives me a sense of validation, self-confidence, and my community, as well as an escape from any potential negative energy,” Ellis said. “People might only hear it’s dangerous — without knowing the many positives for players.”


Dr. Kenia had watched Ellis play from the sideline while volunteering with PlaySafe, a program that provides sports medicine care to high schools in the Bay Area; doctors take turns staffing every San Francisco Unified School District football game. In that capacity, Dr. Kenia had even used his phone at a game to pull up Ellis’s medical history to help quickly coordinate his care.

“You never let players go back in the game after a concussion, no matter how good they feel,” explained Dr. Kenia, a concussion specialist. “And teens often take longer to recover. My goal is always to get kids back to the sports they love — but long-term safety and health come first.”

As his senior year neared, Ellis wanted to return to the field. After a meeting with Dr. Kenia, parents Laura and Loren, and representatives from PlaySafe, Ellis was allowed to play again — with a few non-negotiables.

Ellis would play defense only, and manage his technique by never leading with his head or throwing his body in tackles. And he had to stop if he had any concussion symptoms. With these agreements, Ellis had a healthy season and served as his team’s varsity captain, culminating in their winning the city championship.

Ellis is heading to Baldwin Wallace University in the fall, where he’ll major in exercise science, play football, and run track.

“At Kaiser Permanente, the doctors wanted to get at the root of every issue, and because the care is all integrated, it was so easy to consult with any specialist needed,” said Laura. “Ellis got the great care he needed — every step of the way.”