June 30, 2011

Program supports children with brain injuries

Program supports children with brain injuries

The Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt has helped launch a new program to support children diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) after they leave the hospital.

Though other states have programs with similar aspects, this is the only program of its kind in the nation. It is in place at Children’s Hospital in collaboration with Project BRAIN, a program of the Tennessee Disability Coalition and the Tennessee Departments of Health and Education.

This program supports the student’s transition from hospital to home and back to school. With family consent, a Brain Injury Transition Liaison follows up with families, offers a signs and symptoms tool and recommends resources, if needed, to help a child recover. The liaison also notifies the school, with parental consent, about the child’s injury and to offer education on the signs and symptoms of a TBI. Already, the project has reached out to 41 families since May 23.

“There is a huge variation in what people recognize as a traumatic brain injury,” said Barbara Shultz, R.N., director of emergency services at Children’s Hospital. “We hear, ‘it’s just a concussion.’ It’s not just a concussion. It’s very significant, and the impact of that can really be life altering.”

A traumatic brain injury (mild, moderate or severe) is a disruption of normal brain function that is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. A person may suffer changes in mood, behavior, memory, senses, communication and balance. Though most children recover fully from a mild TBI, the consequences can be long-term and devastating if not addressed.

“Often TBI is misidentified and misdiagnosed,” said Paula Denslow, director of Project BRAIN. “Most times, schools are not informed that an injury happened. It’s often the teachers who help identify what’s going on. But what we hear from parents and schools is they are getting information too late.”

This program seeks to get the information to families and schools immediately.

“This is a way for us to link our expertise together to improve the care for children,” said Shultz. “We need to be more proactive about preventing these injuries and making sure people realize the significance and signs and symptoms of even a moderate traumatic brain injury from the beginning.”

More than 1.7 million Americans — adults and children — sustain a traumatic brain injury each year, according for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many more go unreported. From 2008-2009, the state TBI Registry documented about 670 Tennesseans, ages 3 to 21, who had TBIs.

Still, many more children fall through the cracks.

That’s what happened to Parris Keane, a 17-year-old high school student from Brentwood who suffered a traumatic brain injury when a backyard deck she was standing on collapsed in October 2008. It took her family more than a year to finally get a TBI diagnosis.

Parris and her family struggled until then. She barely passed school her freshman year. Her parents were told she had Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). She had sudden, inappropriate outbursts. She was severely depressed. Her family sought desperately to help her.

With the correct diagnosis, she is getting back on track, relearning how to do tasks such as drive. She is also speaking out.

“I’m not going to let that happen to someone else or let that happen to other families,” Parris said.

For more information, call Project BRAIN at 383-9442.