Honoring Brain Injury Awareness Month

by Tony Doran, Psy.D.
HeadFirst Concussion Care Program Director

Since HeadFirst Sports Injury and Concussion Care launched just three years ago, we’ve already seen the tide turn about the public’s understanding of concussion (mild Traumatic Brain Injury or mTBI). We’ve gone from hearing “It’s a only a mild concussion,” and “You just got your bell rung a bit,” to an acknowledgment of the severity of this silent injury.

Locally here in the Capital region, HeadFirst has been extremely active in hosting educational seminars for coaches and parents, and participating in dozens of community outreach programs.

In 2014 alone, HeadFirst’s team of professionals participated in more than 80 community events reaching more than 180,000 people. These events included partnerships and sponsorships with the Brain Injury Association of Maryland, Hockey for Heroes (benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project, USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program and Disable Veterans of America), Sports Legacy Institute, Touchdown Club of Annapolis, as well as educational seminars for school and county recreational coaches and athletic directors, presentations for school nurses on concussions and mental health, and attendance at community health fairs.

These groups have welcomed our educators with open arms to help their coaches and athletic trainers understand the right protocol in managing a suspected head injury, from those critical first moments to long-term treatment for proper healing.

Our outreach programs are one of our cornerstones, we’d like to think they’ve helped change the traditional way of thinking about concussions.

HeadFirst is also a gathering point for professionals from around the region to share their expertise. Our monthly Concussion Consortium pulls together physicians, neurologists, neuropsychologists, physical and vision therapists, and other specialists, school administrators and nurses, athletic trainers and coaches, who discuss scientific research and resources for concussion treatment and protocols.

The Consortium often hosts a respected guest speaker who shares information about specific topics and issues related to concussion. Next week, we’re welcoming Sarah Loeffler, LCSW-C, of The Neuropsychiatry Program at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore, Md., who will discuss mTBI’s connection to anxiety and depression.

Also next week, HeadFirst Chief Executive Officer Robert G. Graw, Jr., M.D., and HeadFirst Program Director Tony Doran, Psy.D., are presenting their lecture, An Integrated Community Model for Concussion: Update, at the Brain Injury Association of Maryland’s annual conference.

Of course, all of this is in addition to our 11 clinics throughout the DC-Baltimore region, which is our reason for existence. From the thousands of neurocognitive ImPACT® tests we’ve administered to the patients for whom we have cared, we’ve heard amazing, heartfelt stories of the trials of living with a concussion and the willpower to overcome it. These serve as our inspiration to push ever forward.

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We continue to read emotional articles in the news about concussion awareness, including yesterday’s announcement of San Francisco 49er linebacker Chris Borland’s decision to retire due to the high potential of long-term brain injury from playing. Turning away from a lucrative career in the name of your health surely must be one of the most incredibly difficult decisions to make, and we applaud this young man for having the guts to make this choice.

HeadFirst Sports Injury and Concussion Care is proud to honor March’s designation as Brain Injury Awareness Month, as well as Brain Injury Awareness Day today, March 18. Looking back, it’s been a fulfilling journey, albeit a short one. The starting line is still in our sights and we know the finish line is a long way off—and very likely will continue to move even as we do.

Concussions can and do happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. The non-discriminatory nature of this injury is what continues to motivate us to do our work.

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March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

by Tony Doran, Psy.D.
HeadFirst Concussion Care Program Director

In the past several years, few medical problems have generated as much public interest as sports-related concussions. Coaches, parents, and players are increasingly aware that a concussion involves an injury to the brain and that an athlete suspected of having a concussion should be removed from play and evaluated by a licensed health care professional. I’d like to share a little bit about myself and how I became interested in the area of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI).

My name is Dr. Tony Doran. I was a clinical psychologist for the Navy for the past 20 years. The Navy sent me to Harvard Medical School and I specialized in pediatric neuropsychology. Over the course of my career, I have worked in a variety of diverse positions at Portsmouth Naval Hospital, Iwakuni Medical Clinic Japan, and the United States Naval Academy. I have treated kids and adults with everything from adjustment reactions and craniosynostosis to mTBI and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

As my time in the military was winding down, I began to explore where my next adventure would take me and I naturally gravitated to conducting evaluations for Special Forces Units throughout the United States. After more than 10 years of war, I have treated and evaluated hundreds of service men and women who were dealing with the wounds of war coping with PTSD and mTBI. As the war was coming to a close, I began to look at what other avenues I could explore. My contracting position of evaluating Special Forces Units involved a lot of travel away from my family, which initially was exciting and interesting, but after 3 years was beginning to wear on myself and my family. So I began to look for a permanent position.

Having been a consultant, I had performed some services for a new company in the area of concussion care called HeadFirst. HeadFirst was evaluating and treating hundreds of kids with mTBI and a substantial percentage of these kids had some special needs – autism, learning disabilities, attention problems or other psychological problem. My experience and training in mTBI and childhood disorders would help me treat and evaluate these children. HeadFirst was looking for someone to evaluate the enormous amount of data they were beginning to collect and also help them branch off and start new research projects. My years of data analysis and research in the Navy would assist me in this area. Several weeks later, I was hired as the Program Director of HeadFirst. I look forward to educating parents, children and coaches in the area about mTBI, treating children and teens with mTBI, and conducting research in the area of mTBI.

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I was at a meeting the other night with several health care providers and asked them to please share a story about what a concussed child or family member had asked them about after brain rest had been explained to them. As we went around the room, kids and family members asked about playing the drums, going snowboarding, playing football with dad in the yard, sleigh riding, mountain climbing, just shooting baskets or just swinging in a batting cage. Answers like theirs beg the question: Are our kids, families, and coaches getting the message about the seriousness of mTBI?

Pardon the Navy analogy, but sometimes big ships take a while to turn. I am encouraged when I hear teens make comments like “Hey, that kid has to stay out of competition for at least 7 to 10 days” after witnessing a concussion and a parent discussing with a child that she might need to permanently switch to a different sport – like track or swimming – after her fourth concussion in soccer. However, when I still get questions like “Can I go ride my go cart?” after explaining brain rest, I am reminded that we, as providers, educators and researchers, have more work to do.

If you are interested in joining the concussion discussion, please visit this blog as we will be having different providers, coaches, parents and recovering patients contribute. Also please see our website for community events.

The Brain Injury Association of Maryland is having their annual conference March 20th-21st – please see their website to find out more and I hope to see you there.

Meet Kelley

There are many brave people in the world but every once in a while you come across someone whose story is so inspiring that you are amazed by their ability to overcome adversity.

Meet Kelley, a courageous young lady who suffers from concussion. After being diagnosed, she made the decision to help educate others about the dangers of concussion and help other people realize they are not alone in their struggle. She has already spoken at schools on the topic of brain injuries, her story was featured in the summer newsletter of the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts and, now, she has agreed to be a recurring contributor to our blog by posting journal entries about her ongoing saga.

This is Kelley’s Story:

“Ten months ago I sustained my second concussion while playing volleyball on my high school varsity team. Since then I have endured ten months of often excruciating headaches and neck pain. Ten months of home tutoring to help me keep up with my schoolwork because the lights and noises of the school environment are unbearable. Ten months of solitude to wrestle with the fact I may never be able to play the sport I love again. In all of those ten months confined to my home, I am yet to hear any encouraging words from my peers. It made the isolation worse and even harder to deal with. I wondered if other people had a similar story? Was there anyone else out there who is going through, or has gone through, this struggle with this kind of a traumatic brain injury? If I had someone else that was going through the same thing, I think it would be easier to deal with all of the changes in my life that I had no control over. I hope by contributing to this blog, I can encourage others. I hope people who are suffering through this injury know they are not alone, and that there are people who truly understand what they are going through. I also desire that people would read my stories and have a new compassion and understanding for those that they encounter who have been impacted by this silent brain injury.”