Young athletes, students in Western Pennsylvania with concussions receive varied accommodations
High school senior and former defensive end Hunter Horton doesn't mind when his mother reads school textbooks and homework assignments to him — he prefers it.
Depending on severity, accommodations for students with concussions can range from limited computer time and verbal exams to, in Horton's case, exclusion from school.
“I want to go back to school but I know if I try, my grades will drop again,” Horton said, still dizzy from a concentration test Thursday at his doctor's office. “I would have headaches all day.”
The 17-year-old native of Harrisonville in Fulton County went down Sept. 13 when an opponent's shoulder led hard into the left side of his helmet. He stayed conscious and played through the half. But as with any traumatic brain injury, Horton's latest concussion will take a long time to heal.
Horton, who plays for Southern Huntingdon High School, suffered two back-to-back concussions in 2011, and doctors told his mother his brain would heal with rest alone. But this time the headaches persisted. He has difficulty focusing on math problems and does about an hour of school work a day. He said his teachers have been understanding, but being at home for long hours gets boring.
“There is no cookbook approach to concussions,” said Michael “Micky” Collins, director of UPMC's sports medicine concussion program, who has treated Horton. “For students, recovery absolutely depends on the accommodations teachers make in the classroom.”
Deanna Hess, a registered nurse and health services chairwoman at Mt. Lebanon School District, keeps a flow chart.
“First, we follow any recommendations from their doctor,” she said, “but we've also worked hard to be ready in case a student hasn't seen a physician yet or doesn't recognize the symptoms.”
Migraine headaches, loss of focus, fatigue, anxiety, poor vision, bad balance or light sensitivity — every case is different, she said.
“It's not like these kids have a cast on their head,” Collins said. “We have to change the mindset of educators to get them on board. They have to know the right questions to ask.”
Training and patience get tested constantly, Hess said. As many as 100 Mt. Lebanon students suffer concussions every year.
“Right now we're treating three concussions in one elementary school,” she said. “It's a hard thing to get across, even as nurses, that these healthy-looking children who laugh with their friends and want to stay involved are injured and need our help.”
Brian Betta, a Plum Borough High School guidance counselor, said his crew is accustomed to the process.
Teachers have the option to administer tests in stages, provide advanced copies of notes or reduce a student's workload by as much as 75 percent. Some students use audio books, get homework extensions or take time out for short breaks or naps. Hats or sunglasses are OK. Settings on computer screens can be modified to ease eye strain.
“I had a couple students for whom the noise level in the cafeteria was too much while they were recovering, so we adapted,” Betta said. “It has to be a team effort. It can't be a kid trying to advocate for himself.”
Players today, even in high school, are like missiles, said Chip Burke, orthopedic surgeon and former team physician for the Penguins.
“It used to actually hurt when you got hit. (Student athletes) today are bigger, stronger, faster, and the equipment keeps getting better, but our injury rates continue to climb. They fly after each other and think they're invincible.”
In the classroom, teachers with potentially injured players are encouraged to alert the coaching staff if a medically cleared athlete behaves abnormally. Coaches, medical officials, athletic trainers and a battery of sensors and software programs help monitor progress. Often, a student visits the UPMC clinic thinking he or she will ace the medical exam, only to score among the most injured.
“We never want to take a kid out of school unless we have to, but this isn't something you can rush,” Collins said. “We're looking for a return to life. That's much more profound than a return to sports.”
Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- PennDOT details closings as work continues on Parkway West
- Lane restrictions announced for portion of Route 28
- Sports Deli is latest tenant to say goodbye to Parkway Center Mall
- Woman shot in shoulder during McKeesport fight
- Package thefts can be prevented, police, experts say
- Alpine touring skiing movement faces uphill climb in Western Pa.
- Muslim civil rights group seeks investigation into shooting of Pittsburgh taxi driver
- Security policies limit ‘insider threat’ at airports, TSA says
- Shooting of Pittsburgh cab driver spotlights risks of profession
- Terror threat doesn’t keep Pittsburgh International travelers down
- Stories of Franklin Park man’s life of adventure kept alive as his memory dims