Volunteer group works to educate young athletes about head trauma

March 08, 2013|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Debra Wagner left and Jeanette Rosensteel put the finishing touches Tuesday on a brain injury awareness booth that will be on display next week at Robinwod Medical Center and Meritus medical Center.
Kevin G. Gilbert /

It's difficult to make concussion statistics scarier than they are. But here are a few eye-openers:

  •  Each year, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.7 million people in the United States suffer a traumatic brain injury. About 475,000 of those cases are children.
  •  High school football players alone sustain 100,000 diagnosed concussions during a season, while the average college lineman sustains between 950 and 1,100 subconsussive blows — hits that are enough to cause cumulative damage to young brain tissue but not enough to cause immediate symptoms.
  •  A study by the University of North Carolina found that many young athletes, following a concussion, had difficulties in the classroom, both academically and emotionally.
  •  And a report in 2008 by the American Academy of Neurology found that 41 percent of concussed athletes in 100 high schools across the U.S. returned to play too soon under guidelines set out by the academy.

While often associated with football, all sports can be minefields for traumatic brain injury, including basketball, hockey, soccer, skiing and snowboarding. Even cheerleading has its dangers.

The repercussions of returning to any of those physical activities while concussed can include a long list of complications — including memory loss, depression, personality change, speech impediments and balance disorders.

Locally, a group of volunteers is working to safeguard young athletes from the dangers of head trauma.

Comprised of medical personnel, teachers, trainers and parents, the Brain Injury Community Outreach Council represents Washington County and provides resource to Allegany, Frederick and Garrett counties.

In addition to raising public awareness and increasing prevention efforts, the council last year helped to implement concussion testing in Washington County schools.

Originally a pilot program at Smithsburg High School, Debra Wagner, the program's chairwoman, said the testing — an ImPACT computer-based program that evaluates and documents aspects of brain function — now in place at Boonsboro High School.

By next school year, the council is hopeful that the program will be established in all Washington County high schools.

Wagner said the baseline testing is used as a tool when an injury occurs. Sitting at a computer, athletes are tested on impulse control, sustained attention, visual-motor processing speed, visual and verbal memory, selective attention, reaction time and response variability.

Results can identify whether a student athlete has had a brain injury and should be referred to a physician. The testing program also can aid in decisions about when an injured athlete can return to play following a concussion.

Wagner said Meritus Health's School Health Program staff is being integrated into the program.

"The plan will include teaching the ImPACT program to the nurses who will then administer the test and also assist the athletic trainer in processing the needs within the school system once the athlete returns," she said.

Over the past year, Wagner said Smithsburg High School has completed 235 baseline tests.

"They have had 13 incidents resulting in the diagnosis of a concussion," she noted.  "Most have been from basketball and there have been more girls than boys."

Feedback from parents has been positive, Wagner said, with several parents expressing gratitude for all the information provided to them.

"One parent who works in the health system also expressed appreciation for how organized and well put together the program was," she added. "Also, the teaching staff has embraced this new education and are interested in learning more about the expectations when the student athlete returns to class."

In addition to county high schools, Wagner said "the council continues to reach out to community groups. Dr. Amy Fox, a member of the council, is actively working with the Hagers-town Area Youth Soccer League to educate their coaches."

Another member of the council, Wagner said, has taken on the challenge of leading and organizing the Headway Brain Injury Support Group, whose primary purpose is to offer continuing education and support to survivors of neurologic events and their families.

The group meets the fourth Monday of every month at the Robinwood Professional Center, Room 122. Discussions include depression with traumatic brain injury, sensory hypersensitivity, employment and training, networking and technology.

Wagner said the council, which goes by the nickname "The Know Brainers," spreads awareness of concussions throughout the community by holding programs, providing educational materials related to head injuries and offering bicycle helmet giveaways and fittings.

In an effort to support the council's efforts, Wagner said Meritus Health is helping to organize a special event during March, which is Brain Injury Awareness Month.

From today to Friday, March 15, Wagner said the council will have a display in the common area of the Robin's Nest at Robinwood Professional Center, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and in the Robin's Cove dining area Thursday and Friday. (See boxed information for times)

"Then, on Friday, anyone who participated with a donation will display their green ribbon, along with their denim to show their support," Wagner said.

Funds from the Denim Day fundraiser will help the council purchase bike helmets and literature for continued free education and helmet fittings in the community, Wagner noted.

Want to know more?

The Brain Injury Community Outreach Council from today to Friday, March 15, will have a display in the common area of the Robin's Nest at Robinwood Professional Center, off Robinwood Drive east of Hagerstown. Hours are 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today through Wednesday. The display will move to Robin's Cove dining area 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday and 8 to 10 a.m. Friday.

Private donations also are accepted and can be made to the Community Outreach Council in care of the Meritus Healthcare Foundation, Debra Wagner at Meritus Medical Center, 3 West, Room 3159, 11116 Medical Campus Road, east of Hagerstown, Md. 21742.

For more information about joining the council, call Debra Wagner at 301-790-8618.

Information about the Headway Brain Injury Support Group is available by calling Annie Thrift at 301-745-4548.

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