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Catastrophic health coverage needed for student athletes

Updated: February 10, 2012 8:28AM



There is no requirement in Illinois that high schools obtain catastrophic health insurance for student athletes.

Rasul “Rocky” Clark found out the importance of such insurance during a football game on Sept. 15, 2000.

The 16-year-old running back took a routine pitchout from his quarterback at Eisenhower High School in Blue island, lowered his shoulder as an oncoming tackler approached and immediately crumpled to the ground.

Rocky, who lived in Robbins, would never walk again.

Eisenhower High School actually provided catastrophic insurance to its students, but the $5 million lifetime limit ran out for Rocky in 2010.

After living 11 years as a quadriplegic, Rocky died on Thursday.

His relatives, friends, pastor and school officials are now on a mission to pass a state law that would provide lifetime health care to any student athlete who suffers a similar fate.

“There absolutely should be a requirement that all student athletes who suffer injuries like Rocky’s are covered for life,” said John Byrne, superintendent for Community High School District 218, which includes Eisenhower.

Byrne said shortly after coming to District 218 “someone asked me what our liability would be if any student had an accident in school and we discovered it would cost like $12,000 to get catastrophic insurance to cover 6,000 students. So we extended catastrophic coverage to every student in the district.

“But there’s no state requirement to do that. None.

“And in a case like Rocky’s, you find out that even the normal catastrophic insurance policies can run out.

“I reviewed the medical expenses of his family at one point and discovered that he went through the first $1 million in about the first six months following his injury.” Byrne said.

I met Rocky in November of last year, when his mother called a news conference announcing that his insurance had run out.

“I ran a 10.6 in the 100,” Rocky told me with pride about his days as a track star. “I stood 5 feet, 8 inches tall and high jumped 6 feet, 2 inches.

“I have no regrets,” he said. “You can’t complain, you know, because life has its twists. Things happen.”

Yes, they do. But adults have a responsibility to plan for things that can happen to a 16-year-old kid who believes he’s invincible.

The Illinois High School Association does not require catastrophic insurance coverage for high school athletes.

A letter written by one of Rocky’s doctors stated that in addition to specialized medical care to treat his ailments, on a regular basis Rocky needed three liters of oxygen, a suction machine, a breathing machine, wheelchair, gauze sponges, external catheter, incontinent sheath holder, splints (every four hours on, 2 hours off), 24-hour nursing care and Dulcolax suppositories every day.

I’m guessing none of that is on the back-to-school lists of the thousands of parents who send their children off to participate in high school sports each year.

“Ninty-five percent of high schools in Illinois don’t provide catastrophic insurance,” said Don Grossnickle, chairman and founder of the Gridiron Alliance.

“If Rocky’s going to leave a legacy, I hope it will be a law changing that.”



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