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Dykstra's Care Might Have Been Covered

The comatose La Verne quarterback probably had access to insurance. Yet those close to him say he reported headaches to staff but went untreated.

November 01, 2002|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

If, as the father and girlfriend of comatose Rollie Dykstra have said, the injured University of La Verne quarterback was having constant headaches before he suffered a brain injury Oct. 19 in a game against Redlands, there was insurance in effect that would have allowed for treatment, according to sources familiar with medical coverage available to NCAA Division III athletes.

Roland Dykstra Sr. and Jennifer Ross maintain that the senior quarterback complained to them of severe headaches and have accused La Verne athletic officials of having denied him medical treatment.

The senior Dykstra said he has retained attorney Martin Cervantes of Ontario to investigate the matter.

The dispute hinges on two questions:

* Did La Verne trainer Jim May tell Dykstra it would be best to monitor the headaches at the college because of possible high expenses involved in medical treatment for a head injury?

Ross said that's what Dykstra told her.

"That would be a profoundly stupid thing [for a trainer] to say," said an NCAA official.

* Or did Dykstra, who had nailed down the starting quarterback's job only two games earlier, downplay his condition to coaches and trainers so he could keep his starting role and play in the game against his hometown college, Redlands?

"We have independent witnesses, outside of the family, who've said Rollie made it clear to the trainers that he was having problems and no one offered him any help," Cervantes said. "There was a breakdown. It will take a little bit to sort this out."

How treatment could have been denied is puzzling to those in Division III. Athletes typically have three or more layers of insurance, said Charles Katsiaficas, athletic director at Pomona-Pitzer, a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference rival of La Verne's.

A La Verne official confirmed that tuition for full-time students, which costs $19,500, includes a student accident and sickness insurance plan underwritten by Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Co. of Glenview, Ill. Dykstra is a full-time student.

Among other benefits, the policy provides as much as $750 for a hospital X-ray examination and is intended to complement coverage most students have through parents' policies, a La Verne official said.

Because of his age, Dykstra, 24, had no coverage through his parents, Ross said.

A university spokeswoman said, however, that La Verne athletes are also covered by liability insurance purchased by the university to pay for injuries suffered in training or competition.

Officials from three SCIAC universities said policies vary from school to school, but noted that there had been substantial increases in insurance premiums this year as a result of 9/11. Kirk Jones, Pomona-Pitzer's head trainer, said athletes at his university were responsible for paying a one-time-only deductible of $500 on claims. Jones added that if an athlete were experiencing financial hardship, the university would pay the deductible.

La Verne officials, sensitive to potential litigation in the Dykstra case, refused to confirm many details about their university's athletic insurance, although three sources in the athletic department said athletes were not responsible for paying deductibles.

Ross said that Dykstra had received free medical treatment for a sprained foot earlier in the season.

"To my knowledge, he didn't pay anything," she said. "[La Verne] covered it."

Doctors treating Dykstra at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center have not said whether he'd suffered second-impact syndrome -- serious head trauma after a previous head injury -- or if he had endured a previous concussion before being knocked out of the game against Redlands.

Dykstra remains in serious condition, on a respirator.

His injury probably will require La Verne to call upon the NCAA's catastrophic-injury insurance program, which covers claims of $50,000 or more.

NCAA spokesman Wallace Renfro said the policy costs $9 million a year and is paid for from all revenues, which include membership dues from Division III universities.

"The NCAA does not require institutions to carry insurance for their athletes in practice and competition, but most do, and our management council will probably soon propose that institutions look to go beyond that -- to workouts, official or not," Renfro said.

What haunts Ross and the Division III athletic officials is the thought that Dykstra's tragedy, and the medical expenses, might have been avoided.

"Rollie said he told [La Verne trainers] about his headaches, and I believed him," Ross said. "I have no idea what was said, but he told me they were aware. He told me his head was bothering him even when he threw the ball [in practices], and in the days before the game he seemed listless and tired. I noticed it. I would have thought they'd notice it."

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