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February 22, 2013

High School Sports: Local woman heads state concussion program

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NEW CASTLE — CAUSES

Approximately 22,000 child and adolescent concussions, which are defined as traumatic brain injuries, occur each year in Pennsylvania.

Brown said about half of those are attributed to participation in sporting events with the remainder coming from other activities or incidents, primarily automobile accidents.

Current research shows that 80 percent of students will recover in the first four weeks after a concussion.

Brown said returning to the full demands of school must be carefully managed, because returning to a full academic load too soon following a concussion can significantly increase and prolong symptoms.  

Brown contends some concussed students were coming back to school too soon. “Hundreds of students across state were referred to us because they weren’t getting better,” she said.

There was a need in schools to easily access tools so educational professionals could accurately monitor symptoms and academics,” Brown said. “These areas are key to managing student concussion ‘symptom thresholds’ at school, while ensuring that learning is still taking place.

“We don’t want students to experience symptoms caused by cognitively fatiguing the brain while it is trying to heal.”

At four weeks, if symptoms persist, a referral for more intensive support is made to the BrainSTEPS program.  

ONE TREATMENT FOR ALL

“The severity of the concussion doesn’t matter, according to Brown. “They all need to be treated the same.”

“They’ve done away with grading of concussions because when kids and their parents would hear they had a grade 1 concussion, they would think it was minor and try go back to full activity.”

Brown said all concussions should be treated the same.

Brown said without the proper protocol, symptoms are likely to linger, especially if the patient has concussion modifiers, which include a history of migraines, attention problems, sleep problems, depression or other mental health conditions and prior concussions.

Students normally stay home from school from one to three days following a concussion. Brown said concussed students should not return until they can focus for 30 minutes without getting any symptoms. The CMT protocol calls for rest breaks of 10 minutes after every 30 minutes of study.

“We know if students go back to school without accommodations, it will take longer to recover.”

Brown, who graduated from Wittenburg University in Springfield, Ohio, has a degree in special education and elementary education. She has a master’s degree from George Washington University in traumatic injuries.

Her interest in dealing with the subject began years ago when her brother sustained a severe traumatic brain injury after being struck by a car. After that, she began volunteering in Harrisburg, helping to create BrainSTEPS.

“It sparked my interest,” she said. “After I saw what my family went through, there was nothing for kids for brain injuries.”

(Email: d_burcham@ncnewsonline.com)

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