By Katie Culver
The risk of getting hurt is part of playing sports. We parents of athletic children understand that. But rising awareness of concussions presents a new avenue of worry. How can we spot a concussion and what can we expect if our child suffers one? I spoke recently with a mom I’ll call Kathy about her 12-year-old son, whom I’ll call Jack, who suffered a concussion last year.
FGN: How did you know that Jack had a concussion?
K: He came home from playing pick-up football the Friday after Thanksgiving and 20 minutes later started crying hysterically saying his head hurt. He had fallen backwards and hit his head after a two-hand-touch game turned into tackle. I called our pediatrician who told me to check for vomiting or pain in his eyes. He had none of these symptoms; just a bad headache. On Monday when I picked him up from school he was white as a ghost and complained that his eyes hurt, he had a terrible headache and could not concentrate in school. I took him directly to Bryn Mawr Hospital. They gave him a balance and memory test. The result: He had sustained a concussion.
FGN: What was the treatment? How long did it take?
K: We would go to duPont [Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE] every two weeks for balance, cognitive and visual/memory tests. Because we didn’t have base-line testing done, his scores were compared to other 12-year old boys with similar grades in school [duPont required academic records to determine this]. Jack’s performance was very erratic until March, when he fell within the range of his peers. Then he had to complete a final three-hour test with a physical therapist to clear him to resume normal activity.
FGN: How did the concussion affect Jack in school?
K: Jack missed almost the whole month of December. He would go for two hours here and there and then I would have to pick him up. He could not read, couldn’t concentrate and had constant headaches. He missed his entire basketball season, which was heartbreaking for him. Once he returned to school in January, he had to check in with the nurse 2-3 times a day and often would lay down to rest. [NOTE: The symptoms and treatment are consistent with the Academic Accommodations for Concussion suggested by Premier Orthopedics and Sports Medicine].
FGN: What was the most difficult part of this experience?
K: The concussion affected him mentally. Jack is an outgoing, happy kid who is always on the go. The headaches made him not want to do anything and he couldn’t play video games with his friends, watch T.V. or have sleep-overs. He was exhausted all the time. It really affected his psyche—he became depressed and actually had this really scary episode one night were he became hysterical and said he had this thought that he wanted to kill himself. He was mostly scared by the thought and didn’t actually feel like he was going to do it but was just totally out of whack mentally. When we spoke to the concussion doctor she said that was a really normal symptom—that she had 19-year old-guys bawling in her office and expressing the same desperation after concussions.
FGN: What advice would you give parents of a child with a concussion?
K: To have the base-line testing performed. And to wear any protective gear they have. I feel like I want to have Jack in a bike helmet at all times, which of course isn’t possible. But I am reminding him as soccer season begins what he can’t do and that he absolutely cannot head the ball. We went to an amusement park the other day and Jack had a scare in bumping his head while on a roller coaster. You don’t think about all of the possible situations. I hope we never have to go through this again.