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February 22, 2013

High School Sports: Local woman heads state concussion program

NEW CASTLE — A Lawrence County woman has taken the lead in helping Pennsylvania school personnel evaluate and assist students with concussions.

Brenda Eagan Brown, a Laurel High School graduate, is the state coordinator for BrainSTEPS, a program that unveiled “Concussion Return to School Protocol” with the state Department of Education. She enhanced the system by creating school-based academic Concussion Management Teams.

“We are the first state to do anything so systematically and on such a large scale,” she said.

Some 149 of Pennsylvania’s 501 schools districts have responded, including five in Lawrence County. “I thought if we set up 50 teams, it would be great, but we ended up with 360,” Brown said.

Wilmington and Ellwood City have four concussion management teams each while Shenango has three. Union and the Lawrence County Career and Technical Center have one each.

“It’s great to see local schools involved,” said Brown, a graduate of Laurel High School. “We saw a need for returning to school issues that weren’t just focussed on returning to sports.”

CMTs will support students returning to the demands of school while promoting recovery. They will partner with BrainSTEPS consulting teams that span the state, based in the educational intermediate units. The BrainSTEPS infrastructure is available to schools as a second layer of more intensive student concussion support, consultation and training, for students who do not recover in the typical four week trajectory.

CMT training was held at 25 sites across the Commonwealth.

Each CMT is made up of three persons, headed by a supervisor, usually a superintendent, principal or special education director. There are two monitors — one academic, usually a school psychologist or guidance counselor; and a symptom monitor, usually a school nurse. They agree to manage student recovery for the initial four weeks.

TAKING CHARGE

Julie Hudak, a school nurse for the past eight years, is part of the CMTs at Shenango. She said the number of concussions in the school system each years numbers from a few to a half dozen.

Joe McCormick, principal Shenango High School, endorses the program.

“Because research is catching up and the medical field is learning a lot more about how to help kids heal,” he said. “We’re making academic accomodations, allowing concussed students to come back to school a few hours at a time until they are able to to attend a full day.”

Dave Nerti, principal at Union High School, attended the recent CMT session along with a school nurse and school psychologist.

Nerti said Union teachers are on board with the protocol. “Many of them have dealt with concussions and they understand.”

Nerti knows about the dangers first hand, having suffered sports-related concussions in high school and college. “I was still dazed when I went back to school,” he said.

He said there is a need to monitor concussed students and determine their capabilities.

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